Middle East This Week: April 25, 2023

April 25, 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 Great Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Alexandre Moureau (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ongoing Middle East Elections

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): Continuing and Local Elections: Postponed to May 2024

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 18, 2023): Hezbollah’s candidate for Lebanon’s presidency hails talks with Maronite patriarch after surprise visit to Bkerke

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. 

Elçin Poyrazlar, Politico (April 26, 2023): Turkey’s jailed electoral kingmaker predicts Erdoğan’s demise

AFP (April 25, 2023): Turkey arrests 110 people over alleged PKK links ahead of crunch elections

Reuben Silverman, Foreign Policy (April 22, 2023): What Happens When a Turkish President Loses an Election? No One Knows.

Reuters (April 20, 2023): Erdogan offers free gas pre-election after first Black Sea field shipment

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.”

Umair Jamal, The Diplomat (April 25, 2023): The Problem With Pakistan’s Supreme Court: The recent ruling fixing a date for the Punjab provincial assembly elections is deeply controversial as it lays bare the apex court’s partisan bias.

Shah Meer Baloch, The Guardian (April 20, 2023): Pakistan’s Punjab elections to go ahead as court confirms ruling

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 or July 2023 (due)

Pierre Boussel, GIS Reports (April 19, 2023): Tunisia’s democratic decline: In the birthplace of the Arab Spring, civil liberties are eroding for a public increasingly frustrated by social and economic problems.

Al-Monitor (April 18, 2023): Timeline: Kais Saied’s crackdown in Tunisia, from suspending parliament to arresting Ghannouchi

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.

Barham Salih, Foreign Policy (April 24, 2023): 20 Years After Liberation, Iraq Needs Root-and-Branch Reform

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

Tunisia Local Elections: May or July 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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