Middle East This Week: April 11, 2023

April 11, 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.

Balloons over the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Photo credit:
Wikimedia/Arian Zwegers (CC BY 2.0)

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.

Najia Houssari, Arab News (April 5, 2023): Maronite patriarch, Christian deputies attend spiritual retreat on Lebanon’s presidential elections

Hanna Davis, Axios (April 5, 2023): Lebanon crisis threatens stability of security forces

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. 

Al Jazeera (April 11, 2023): Economy tops Erdogan’s manifesto for Turkish elections

Mahmut Bozarslan, Al-Monitor (April 9, 2023): In Turkey, Erdogan challenger attracts solid Kurdish support, a decisive vote

Kristina Jovanovski, The Media Line (April 7, 2023): Erdogan criticizes US over meeting with opposition ahead of elections: Analysts say Turkey’s relations with the West will quickly improve if the opposition wins

Ayla Jean Yackley, Financial Times (April 6, 2023): ‘Kurds will be decisive’: Erdoğan opponent piles on Turkey election pressure from prison

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.”

Al Jazeera (April 6, 2023): Pakistan parliament rejects court order for snap provincial polls

Adnan Aamir, Nikkei Asia (April 5, 2023): Pakistan faces constitutional crisis over elections: What to know

Betsy Joles, Foreign Policy (April 5, 2023): The Many Trials of Imran Khan: The ousted Pakistani leader and his party face dozens of charges he says are politicized—but he hasn’t been arrested yet

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

France24 (April 9, 2023): Hundreds of Tunisians protest to demand release of President Saied’s opponents

Nadeen Ebrahim and Dalya Al Masri, CNN, (April 5, 2023): Tunisian president’s mystery ‘disappearance’ raises questions about his health

Alessandra Bajec, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (April 6, 2023): Political Arrests in Tunisia Mark Escalation in Kais Saied’s Power Consolidation

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.

Josh Lederman, NBC News (April 11, 2023): Security and political crises in Israel converge to create a perfect storm

Reuters (April 10, 2023): Netanyahu’s Likud party plummets in local news poll

Barak Ravid, Axios (April 10, 2023): In reversal, Netanyahu says he’s keeping Gallant as Israel’s defense minister

Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post (April 10, 2023): Opposition leader Yair Lapid heads to US in attempt to repair frayed ties

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.”

Yousef H Alshammari and Anwar Alrougui, Al Jazeera (April 11, 2023): Kuwait’s political crisis leaves opposition waiting for new era: A new government in Kuwait, but an old parliament – and one that has returned in complicated circumstances

AFP (April 9, 2023): Kuwait gets its seventh government in three years

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 April 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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