Middle East This Week: March 28, 2023

March 28, 2023

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in the greater Middle East and North Africa, usually posted on Tuesdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

The Blue Lagoon at Gwadar, a major port in Pakistan and the site of a Chinese Belt and Road project. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Madihasalam (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ongoing Middle East Elections

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): Continuing

Lebanon’s fractious parliament is in the process of selecting a president. As part of Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the president is always a Maronite Christian (and conversely, a Sunni serves as prime minister and a Shi’ite as speaker of the parliament). 

The last parliamentary elections took place in May 2022 in the context of a political and economic crisis exacerbated by the August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut. In those elections, Hezbollah and its allies lost their majority in parliament, and a number of independents won seats. 

The fragmented parliament has not been able to pick a new president, leaving a vacuum following the end of Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022. Aoun was a strong ally of Hezbollah. Michel Moawad, an anti-Hezbollah candidate, has won the most votes on several ballots, but not a majority. Voting will continue until someone can break the stalemate. 

As a result of not having a president, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government is operating in a caretaker capacity, and it is exacerbating Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis, with the currency hitting new record lows.

Raya Jalabi, Financial Times (March 28, 2023): Lebanon fails the test of time: The decision to delay daylight savings plunged the country into a crisis of conflicting time zones

Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post (March 28, 2023): What’s behind Lebanon’s bizarre time zone dispute?

Reuters (March 27, 2023): After clocks confusion, Lebanon to shift to summer time

Fadi Nicholas Nassar and Saleh El Machnouk, Middle East Institute (March 24, 2023): Paris failed. Washington must lead in breaking the mafia-militia’s chokehold on Lebanon

Najia Houssari, Arab News (March 24, 2023): US official meets Lebanon’s leaders as violent protests rage outside banks

Aya Iskandarani, AFP (March 23, 2023): IMF warns Lebanon at ‘very dangerous moment’

Assem Mroue, AP (March 21, 2023): Protests in Lebanon as pound hits new low against dollar

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Turkey General Elections: May 14, 2023

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power since 2003, and although the party initially ran on a reformist platform, it has become increasingly authoritarian. A 2017 constitutional change, with passed very narrowly in a referendum, replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential system, and gave the presidency new powers.

Turkey’s opposition made the decision to field a single candidate against Erdoğan in this year’s election. The government barred Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from running, so the opposition candidate will be Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). While AKP has its roots in political Islam, CHP is staunchly secularist, having been founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 

In addition, two other candidates are running: Muharrem Ince, who was CHP’s candidate in the last elections, and Sinan Oğan, a former MP from the nationalist MHP. Ince has been described as a spoiler. Following his defeat in the CHP leadership contest, he formed a new party called Memleket (which means Homeland). He is known or his combative style, in contrast to the more mild-mannered Kilicdaroglu.

While Turkey remains a member of NATO, it has in recent years moved closer to Russia and other authoritarian countries.

The campaign is taking place in the context of the aftermath of an earthquake that ravaged the Turkey-Syria borer on February 6, striking Gaziantep province and killing more than 30,000 people and injuring tens of thousands. 

BIA News Desk (March 28, 2023): Turkey’s election body confirms four presidential candidates

Sinan Tavsan, Nikkei Asia (March 28, 2023): Turkish opposition pledges to reverse Erdogan’s economic policies

Joshua Levkowitz, Foreign Policy (March 26, 2023): Turkey’s Xenophobic Turn Targets Stateless Syrians: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vowing to repatriate refugees ahead of an election he desperately wants to win

AFP (March 25, 2023): Combative spoiler enters Turkey’s election campaign

Elizabeth Hagedorn, Al-Monitor (March 24, 2023): Turkey left off guest list for Biden’s 2nd democracy summit

Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor (March 23, 2023): Meet Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Turkey’s long-derided opposition head who could dethrone Erdogan

Balkan Insight (March 22, 2023): Turkey Punishes TV Channels for Critical Coverage Ahead of Elections

Suzan Fraser, AP (March 22, 2023): In boost to opposition, Kurdish party won’t field candidate

Daren Butler and Umit Ozdal, Reuters (March 21, 2021): Turkey’s Kurds eye kingmaker role in election against Erdogan

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: April 30, 2023 and Punjab: October 8, 2023 (delayed from April), followed by General Elections: October 12, 2023 (early elections possible)

Following Pakistan’s turbulent 2018 general election, former cricket star Imran Khan – seen as the military’s preferred candidate – became prime minister when his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats. However, Khan was ousted in an April 2022 vote of no confidence and former opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister. Since then, Khan has sought to force earlier elections as his popularity continues to rise in opinion polls.

This is all taking place in the context of an economic crisis, with soaring prices and rolling blackouts. As a result, the government risks losing the next elections. But delaying the election also creates challenges, given how angry voters are. 

Arif Rafiq observes: “There is little appetite to live in a country where upward mobility and political rights are denied by the civilian-military elite. Many Pakistanis are now voting with their feet. Over 800,000 Pakistanis left the country to work abroad last year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. According to a Gallup Pakistan survey, over fifty percent of Pakistanis with a university degree would like to leave the country.”

Kashif Imran, Arab News (March 27, 2023): Pakistan’s ex-PM Khan calls for snap elections at massive Lahore rally

Munir Ahmed, AP (March 24, 2023): Pakistani court grants protection to Imran Khan from arrest: Officials say a Pakistani court has extended former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s protection from arrest until next week

Diaa Hadid and Steve Inskeep, NPR (March 24, 2023): In a polarized Pakistan, Imran Khan accuses opponents of conspiracies

Ayaz Gul, Voice of America (March 23, 2023): Pakistani Authorities Under Fire for Delaying Crucial Provincial Election

AP (March 22, 2023): Pakistan’s election body delays voting for Punjab Assembly

Iraq Regional Elections: November 6, 2023

Iraq has set regional council elections for November 6, the first in a decade, in all of the provinces except for Kurdistan, which is autonomous. The councils have significant budgetary powers under Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which created a federal system.

Iraq held early elections on in October 2021  as a result of the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019. The elections took place in the context of widespread protest and political instability, with various politicians boycotting.

AP (March 27, 2023): Iraqi Parliament Passes Controversial Election Law Amendments

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: November 18, 2023

Kurdistan is officially part of Iraq but largely operates as a de facto independent entity. 

Chenar Chalak at Rudaw notes: “The Kurdistan Region’s ruling parties, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have been at loggerheads in recent months over the Region’s parliamentary elections, the transparency of the oil and local income of the provinces under their influence, and the assassination of a former PUK colonel in Erbil in October.”

Reuters (March 26, 2023): Iraq’s Kurdistan region to hold elections on Nov. 18: Spokesman

Egypt Elections: 2025 (due)

Hisham Gaafar, Fanack (March 23, 2023): Egypt’s Elusive Spring and the Path to 2024’s Elections

Palestinian Authority General Elections: Long Overdue

The Palestinian Authority is long overdue to hold general elections. President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in year 18 of a four-year term. Similarly, the last Legislative Council elections took place in 2006. However, local elections did take place in 2021 and 2022.

Hannah McCarthy, Irish Times (March 26, 2023): Palestinian Authority PM Mohammad Shtayyeh: Holding elections an ‘existential issue’ for leadership

Past Middle East Elections

Israel Snap Parliamentary Elections: November 1, 2022

Israel has held five sets of general elections over the past four years. The most recent returned Bibi Netanyahu to power, this time heading what has been called the country’s most right-wing government to date.

Israeli is currently experiencing some of the biggest protests in its history, some involving 100,000 people, sparked by Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. Critics of the plan say that it would remove a key set of checks and balances in policymaking and give whoever has the majority in parliament too much power, while proponents say that the judiciary currently has too much of a de facto veto over policy and reforms are necessary. 

But even some who support reforms take issue with the fact that this is being done so quickly, without taking the time to build consensus. President Yitzhak Herzog made a rare statement warning of a potential constitutional collapse.

New York Times (March 28, 2023): A Win for Israel’s Protesters Demonstrations forced Israel’s prime minister to delay a judicial overhaul.

Natasha Turak and Ruxandra Iordache, CNBC (March 27, 2023): Netanyahu survives no-confidence vote as angry protests, strikes paralyze Israel over judicial reforms

Anshel Pfeffer, Foreign Policy (March 27, 2023): In Israel, It’s Gatekeepers 1, Bibi 0: The bureaucrats side with the protesters, forcing Netanyahu to delay a key vote.

Kuwait Snap Parliamentary Elections: September 29, 2022

Although the monarchy appoints the government, Kuwait has one of the most powerful parliaments in the Gulf.

AP notes: “In September, voters sent conservative Islamist figures and two women to the assembly in the second election in less than two years. The election results were seen as a mandate for change amid a prolonged period of gridlock between the Cabinet and the 50-member assembly.”

AFP (March 26, 2023): ‘Great misery’: Kuwait political crisis drags down economy

Regional Power Politics

William Figueroa, Foreign Policy Research Institute (March 24, 2023): Iran-Saudi Normalization: A Regional Process with Chinese Characteristics

Nadeen Ebrahim and Mostafa Salem, CNN, (March 22, 2023): A Saudi-Iran reconciliation may not end the war in Yemen just yet

Middle East Elections Coming Up in 2023

Turkey and Pakistan are due to hold elections that determine who runs the government. In addition, long-overdue elections in the Palestinian Authority and Libya could take place in 2023, but don’t hold your breath.

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): continues in March 2023

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: April 30, 2023

Turkey Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 14, 2023

Lebanon Local Elections: May 31, 2023 (postponed from 2022 – additional delays possible)

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

Pakistan General Elections: October 12, 2023 (due – snap elections possible)

Israel Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Oman Consultative Assembly Elections (advisory body with limited power): October 2023 (due)

United Arab Emirates Federal National Council Elections (indirect elections, advisory body with limited powers): October 2023 (due)

Iraq Regional Elections: November 6, 2023

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: November 18, 2023

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