Middle East This Week: April 4, 2023

April 4, 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.

Derawar Fort in Punjab, Pakistan. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Fassifarooq (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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. 

Reuters (April 4, 2023): Breakaway candidate could give Erdogan a lifeline in tight Turkey election

Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN, (April 3, 2023): Erdogan’s political fate may be determined by Turkey’s Kurds

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab: May 14, 2023, 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.”

Ayaz Gul, Voice of America (April 4, 2023): Pakistan Court Orders Snap Elections in 2 Provinces, Giving Ex-PM Khan Political Boost

Sophia Saifi, CNN (April 1, 2023): Pakistan’s political heavyweights take their street battles to the courts – as a weary nation looks on

DW (March 31, 2023): Pakistan’s political crisis: Where is the country headed?

Abid Hussain, Al Jazeera (March 29, 2023): Why is Pakistan government trying to clip Supreme Court’s powers?

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

The Guardian (March 31, 2023): A poisonous dictatorship has been built in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring

Aymen Bessalah, Tahrir Institute (March 29, 2023): The Fragmented Political Opposition to Kais Saied’s Rule

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue but proposed for 2023

Libya’s general elections are long overdue amid several crises.

Patricia Karam, Arab Center Washington DC (April 4, 2023): Can Libya’s Stalemate Be Overcome?

Past Middle East Elections

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.”

Ismaeel Naar, The National UAE (April 4, 2023): Reinstated Kuwait National Assembly speaker calls for parliament session

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

Turkey Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 14, 2023

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 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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