Middle East

October 22, 2019

Each day, 21votes gathers election news, analysis, and opinions from a different region of the world. We explore the greater Middle East and North Africa on Tuesdays. Click the map pins.

Algeria Presidential – December 12, 2019

Freedom House Rating: Not Free 
Government Type: Presidential Republic
Population: 41.7 million

Algerian politics are dominated by Le Pouvoir, a small group of elite from the military and the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, aged 82 and unable to walk or talk, was going to run for a fifth term in the election originally scheduled for April, but tens of thousands of Algerians protested for two months, and Bouteflika resigned.

The election was moved to July 4, but then the Constitutional Council cancelled the vote. Months later, the interim government set a date of December 12. Protests continue. Protesters are demanding assurances that any new elections will be free and fair, and that the rest of the ruling elite resign before any vote takes place.

Tunisia Presidential Second Round – October 13, 2019 (first round was September 15, 2019 and parliamentary elections were October 6, 2019)

Freedom House Rating: Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Republic
Population: 11.5 million

Tunisia began transitioning to democracy in 2011, amid the Arab Spring protests, and this year, the country will hold the third national elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Under Tunisia’s semi-presidential system, the president has broad authority over foreign and defense policy while the prime minister oversees domestic policy. Ennadha, which presents itself as a moderate, pro-democracy Islamist party but holds some retrograde views, won the first post-Ben Ali elections, but in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the secularist Nidaa Tounes won the most seats. In 2018, Tunisia held long-delayed municipal elections, which saw independent candidates win the most seats, followed by Ennadha.

Twenty-six candidates ran for president this year and the election was highly competitive, and the results shocked the political establishment. Two political outsiders will advance to the second round: law professor Kais Saied and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui. Both could be considered populists, but in very different ways. Karoui has argued for a stronger presidency, while Saied supports decentralization. However, Saied is a social conservative, and has the backing of Ennadha.

The results indicated a rejection of the main political parties and post-Ben Ali political ideologies (Islamism and secular liberalism). However, some concerns lingered about the democratic process. Because Karoui remained in jail, he was unable to speak directly to voters for most of the campaign, a fact with which even Saied himself has expressed discomfort. However, he was released a few days before the vote, and the two candidates did face off in a televised debate.

Afghanistan Presidential – September 28, 2019

Freedom House Rating: Not Free
Government Type: Presidential Islamic Republic
Population: 35 million

Afghanistan held long-delayed parliamentary elections in October 2018, marred by violence and administrative problems. In order to fix problems from the legislative elections, the presidential election has been delayed twice. President Ashraf Ghani’s term ended on May 22, 2019, but he has remained in office, despite calls for a caretaker government, infuriating some. Ghani became president in 2014 in a power sharing deal with his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, following a flawed election.

The election took place amid attacks by the Taliban, which had ordered Aghans not to vote, although the violence was less severe than had been feared. Turnout was low. Both major candidates – incumbent Ghani and main challenger Abdullah, claimed victory right after the election, but official preliminary vote counts are not yet available. Final results expected in early November but could be delayed.

Israel Snap Parliamentary – September 17, 2019

Freedom House Rating: Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy
Population: 8.4 million

Israel – nicknamed the “startup nation” – is a vibrant democracy. In September, Israelis head to the polls again in an unprecedented do-over of parliamentary elections after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud was unable to form a coalition following April’s elections. Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for new elections rather than giving former IDF chief Benny Gantz and his newly-formed centrist Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) the chance to try to form a government.

September’s recent election produced an equally inconclusive result. Israel’s president invited Netanyahu to make the first attempt to form a government, but his success is far from assured. If Netanyahu fails to form a government by October 25 (and if President Reuven Rivlin does not then give him an extension), either Gantz could form one or the country hold yet another election, the third in a year.

Turkey Local – March 31, 2019 (Istanbul mayoral re-run June 23, 2019)

Freedom House Rating: Not Free (downgraded from Party Free in 2018)
Government Type: Presidential Republic
Population: 81.3 million

Turkey held local elections on March 31, but invalidated the results of the Istanbul mayoral election after Ekrem Imamoglu from the opposition Republican Party (CHP) won by a small margin. They re-ran the election on June 23 after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) alleged fraud. The move did not pay off – Imamoglu defeated AKP’s Binali Yildirim once again, by an even bigger margin. The election took place in the context of Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism.

Although Turkey is not due for general elections until 2023, there have been rumors of possible snap elections. The two biggest parties competing would likely be the conservative and increasingly populist and authoritarian AKP,  and center-left secularist CHP, which was founded by Atatürk himself. Other contenders will include the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), currently AKP’s junior coalition partner; and center-right İyi (Good) Party, which favors a return to a parliamentary system and courts conservative voters who oppose Erdogan.

In August 2019, the Turkish government removed three mayors from Kurdish-majority provinces. The mayors had won in landslides in the March local elections, and their removal – on accusations of terrorism – sparked fury among the opposition and among certain groups within AKP. Notably, Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister, and Abdullah Gül, a former president – both of AKP – criticized the move.

Lebanon Parliamentary – May 6, 2018

Freedom House Rating: Partly Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Republic
Population: 6.1 million

Lebanon’s complex “confessional democracy” ensures representation for each of its religious denomination. Seats in parliament are allocated among the 18 religious groups, and the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the president is always a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of the parliament is always a Shiite Muslim.

The country held long-delayed parliamentary elections in May 2018, and nine months later finally formed a government, giving Prime Minister Saad Hariri a third term. The Shiite party and militant group Hezbollah increased its seat share to 53 percent. Christian parties also gained seats, while Hariri’s Future Movement lost seats.

Corruption has been a long-standing problem. The Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, which ranks Lebanon 138 out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perception Index, notes: “Partly due to political instability, the country has not established the necessary integrity structures nor are there indications of a strong political will to fight corruption. Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing arrangements fuels patronage networks and clientelism, which undermines further the country’s governance system.”

Tamara Qiblawi, CNN: “Fury at political elites has engulfed Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the country for anti-government protests, paralyzing its economy and blindsiding its government. These are the largest demonstrations the country has seen since March 2005, when mass protests ended a decades-long Syrian military presence in the country. Sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, the protests began in earnest Thursday night [October 17] with demonstrators forcing road closures around the country.”

Mersiha Gadzo, Al Jazeera: “’Change the system’: Lebanese protesters tell the government -Rejecting reform promises, thousands continue protests for sixth day demanding the government resign and hold election.”

Updated October 23, 2019

Vivian Yee, New York Times: “Lebanon Protests Unite Sects in Demanding New Government: Lebanon’s protests, the largest since its independence, have moved from fury over the economy and corruption to demands for a new political system.”

Daniel Estrin and Lama Al-Arian, NPR: “’Baby Shark,’ Drinks And Dancing: Lebanon’s Protests Are Unlike Any Other”

Samia Mekki and Alastair Jamieson, Euronews: “Lebanon protests: Ex-minister Jumblatt urges election to ‘get rid’ of government”

Roula Khalaf, Financial Times: “In this explosion of long simmering anger, a society that often seeks escapism to forget the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s collectively shouted that it had had enough of the corrupt and inept political class that has ruled ever since. My only surprise is that it has taken so long for the anger to spill on to the streets.”

Palestinian Authority Legislative – Long Overdue (date could be set soon)

Freedom House Rating: Not Free (in both Gaza and West Bank
Population: West Bank – 2.8 million; 1.8 million (Gaza)

Elections are long overdue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in year 14 of a four-year term. Legislative Council elections are similarly long overdue – the last took place in 2006. Islamist fundamentalist Hamas won in a landslide. Municipal elections – boycotted by Hamas – have happened three times – in 2004-2005 in both Gaza and the West Bank and in 2012 and 2017 in the West Bank. In December 2018, the Ramallah-based Constitutional Court issued a ruling dissolving the Legislative Council (which had not met since 2007) and ordering elections within six months, but the elections are on hold indefinitely in the midst of a deadlocked conflict between the Gaza-baed Hamas and Abbas’s secularist Fatah, based in the West Bank.

Upcoming Middle East Elections
Algeria Presidential – December 12, 2019
Freedom House Rating: Not Free 
Government Type: Presidential Republic
Population: 41.7 million

Algerian politics are dominated by Le Pouvoir, a small group of elite from the military and the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, aged 82 and unable to walk or talk, was going to run for a fifth term in the election originally scheduled for April, but tens of thousands of Algerians protested for two months, and Bouteflika resigned.

The election was moved to July 4, but then the Constitutional Council cancelled the vote. Months later, the interim government set a date of December 12. Protests continue. Protesters are demanding assurances that any new elections will be free and fair, and that the rest of the ruling elite resign before any vote takes place.

Updated October 23, 2019

Ali Abo Rezeg, Andalou Agency (Turkey): “Algeria’s National Epection Authority on Wednesday began to receive applications from candidates for the country’s presidential election, slated for December 12. Ezzedine Mihoubi, the Secretary General of Algeria’s Democratic Rally, was the first to submit his application for the polls.”

AFP: “The head of an Algerian political party that was part of the ruling coalition under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday became the first candidate to register for presidential polls. Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), submitted his candidacy for the December 12 vote to the National Independent Elections Authority, recently formed to oversee the vote.”

Rania Hamdi, The Africa Report: “Abdallah Djaballah, leader of the Algerian Islamist party FJD-Adala, has announced his party will not present a candidate in the presidential election on 12 December. He believes the protest movement can gain ground without the use of violence and civil disobedience.”

Hillel Frisch, Algemeiner: “Political Islam Is Declining in the Middle East”

Kanelka Tagba, Middle East Confidential: “Ruling National Liberation Front, FNL, will not bid for December 12 presidential elections because it is not sure of winning in view of the long months of massive demonstrations against the regime. The party’s interim Secretary General Ali Seddiki has indicated that the internal disputes do not guarantee the party’s victory for the elections.”

Latefa Guemar, Abdel Chiheb, Jessica Northey, openDemocracy: “The Algerian Hirak: Young people and the non-violent revolution – As foreign commentators predict its end or failure – Algerians march on. But not without the anxiety, worry and deep concern about how best to proceed.”

Palestinian Authority Legislative – Long Overdue (date could be set soon)
Freedom House Rating: Not Free (in both Gaza and West Bank
Population: West Bank – 2.8 million; 1.8 million (Gaza)

Elections are long overdue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in year 14 of a four-year term. Legislative Council elections are similarly long overdue – the last took place in 2006. Islamist fundamentalist Hamas won in a landslide. Municipal elections – boycotted by Hamas – have happened three times – in 2004-2005 in both Gaza and the West Bank and in 2012 and 2017 in the West Bank. In December 2018, the Ramallah-based Constitutional Court issued a ruling dissolving the Legislative Council (which had not met since 2007) and ordering elections within six months, but the elections are on hold indefinitely in the midst of a deadlocked conflict between the Gaza-baed Hamas and Abbas’s secularist Fatah, based in the West Bank.

Adnan Abu Amer, Al-Monitor: “Abbas rallies election support, with or without Hamas: Fatah, Hamas and most, if not all, of the Arab world believe elections are due in the Palestinian territories. They just can’t agree on when they should be held. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, recently instructed the Central Election Commission to begin preparing to hold parliamentary elections — sometime — supposedly to be followed in a few months by presidential elections. Hamas opposes Abbas’ decision to separate the elections.”

Real News Network (video): “A Palestinian Election and Reconciliation After 13 Years? Daoud Kuttab discusses the demand by eight Palestinian factions to reconcile the differences between the two dominant parties, Hamas and Fatah, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announces his readiness to hold elections.”

Past Middle East Elections
Tunisia Presidential Second Round – October 13, 2019 (first round was September 15, 2019 and parliamentary elections were October 6, 2019)
Freedom House Rating: Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Republic
Population: 11.5 million

Tunisia began transitioning to democracy in 2011, amid the Arab Spring protests, and this year, the country will hold the third national elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Under Tunisia’s semi-presidential system, the president has broad authority over foreign and defense policy while the prime minister oversees domestic policy. Ennadha, which presents itself as a moderate, pro-democracy Islamist party but holds some retrograde views, won the first post-Ben Ali elections, but in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the secularist Nidaa Tounes won the most seats. In 2018, Tunisia held long-delayed municipal elections, which saw independent candidates win the most seats, followed by Ennadha.

Twenty-six candidates ran for president this year and the election was highly competitive, and the results shocked the political establishment. Two political outsiders will advance to the second round: law professor Kais Saied and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui. Both could be considered populists, but in very different ways. Karoui has argued for a stronger presidency, while Saied supports decentralization. However, Saied is a social conservative, and has the backing of Ennadha.

The results indicated a rejection of the main political parties and post-Ben Ali political ideologies (Islamism and secular liberalism). However, some concerns lingered about the democratic process. Because Karoui remained in jail, he was unable to speak directly to voters for most of the campaign, a fact with which even Saied himself has expressed discomfort. However, he was released a few days before the vote, and the two candidates did face off in a televised debate.

Rana Jawad, BBC: “How publicity-shy professor Kais Saied became Tunisia’s president: A former law professor seems an unlikely choice to win the hearts of Tunisia’s young voters. But 61-year-old Kais Saied, nicknamed ‘the robot’ for his stern manner, has officially been elected the North African country’s new president – with the vast majority of voters aged between 18 and 25 reportedly backing him.”

Andrew Green, World Politics Review: “Saied, who has promised to overhaul the government and give more power to local administrations, called his victory a ‘new revolution’ for Tunisia, nearly nine years after the fall of autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.”

Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall, Reuters: “Despite Tunisia’s vote for change, enduring miseries drive youth exodus.”

Mongi Saidani, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Chairman of Ennahda Movement’s Shura Council Abdelkarim Harouni said his party insists on appointing one of its members for the premiership, considering the subject ‘non-negotiable.’ In a press conference on Sunday [October 20], Harouni said his movement has postponed announcing the candidate’s name ‘pending further consultations.’”

North Africa Post: “Tunisian moderate Islamist party Ennhadha is on the verge of appointing its leader Rached Ghannouchi as the future Prime Minister following this month legislative elections dominated by the movement, Tunis Webdo reports.”

Updated October 23, 2019

AFP: “Tunisia’s new President Kais Saied took the oath of office on Wednesday after his surprise election victory over champions of the political establishment. Saied, a conservative academic with no previous political experience who won the overwhelming support of younger voters in an October 13 runoff, was sworn in before members of the constituent assembly and other top state bodies.”

Afghanistan Presidential – September 28, 2019
Freedom House Rating: Not Free
Government Type: Presidential Islamic Republic
Population: 35 million

Afghanistan held long-delayed parliamentary elections in October 2018, marred by violence and administrative problems. In order to fix problems from the legislative elections, the presidential election has been delayed twice. President Ashraf Ghani’s term ended on May 22, 2019, but he has remained in office, despite calls for a caretaker government, infuriating some. Ghani became president in 2014 in a power sharing deal with his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, following a flawed election.

The election took place amid attacks by the Taliban, which had ordered Aghans not to vote, although the violence was less severe than had been feared. Turnout was low. Both major candidates – incumbent Ghani and main challenger Abdullah, claimed victory right after the election, but official preliminary vote counts are not yet available. Final results expected in early November but could be delayed.

Susannah George and Sayed Salahuddin, Washington Post: “Afghan presidential election outcome remains in limbo as results are delayed”

RFE/RL: “Cold Snap Prompts Cries Of Foul Play At Afghan Election Center: A top Afghan presidential contender has complained after two police officers slept in an election data center in Kabul where results from last month’s first round of presidential polls are being collated — supposedly to escape chilly weather.”

Ryan Browne, CNN: “US has quietly reduced troops in Afghanistan despite absence of peace deal”

Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Reuters: “Afghan rivals to meet in China after U.S. talks stall”

Andrew Mines and Amira Jadoon, Lawfare: “Islamic State Affiliate Seeks to Expand in Afghanistan”

Israel Snap Parliamentary – September 17, 2019
Freedom House Rating: Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy
Population: 8.4 million

Israel – nicknamed the “startup nation” – is a vibrant democracy. In September, Israelis head to the polls again in an unprecedented do-over of parliamentary elections after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud was unable to form a coalition following April’s elections. Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for new elections rather than giving former IDF chief Benny Gantz and his newly-formed centrist Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) the chance to try to form a government.

September’s recent election produced an equally inconclusive result. Israel’s president invited Netanyahu to make the first attempt to form a government, but his success is far from assured. If Netanyahu fails to form a government by October 25 (and if President Reuven Rivlin does not then give him an extension), either Gantz could form one or the country hold yet another election, the third in a year.

Colin Dwyer, NPR: “Benjamin Netanyahu Abandons Bid To Form Government Amid Israel’s Political Deadlock”

Isabel Kershner, New York Times: “In a Deeply Split Israel City, Both Sides Urge Unity: Rosh Haayin almost perfectly reflects the political divide paralyzing Israel, with the religious right on one side and the secular left on the other. But its residents are ready for compromise.”

Updated October 23, 2019

Yardena Schwartz, CNBC: “Israel’s gridlock continues as Gantz attempts to form government: With Benjamin Netanyahu unable to form a government, the task passes to the head of the centrist Blue and White party, who may face a similar fate.”

Oliver Holmes, The Guardian: “Gantz will have 28 days to try, after which parliament can nominate a third candidate, although that appears extremely unlikely given the divided makeup of Israel’s legislature, the Knesset. If no contender can end the political crisis, the country will face an unprecedented third election in a year.”

Yossi Beilin, Al-Monitor: “Why Israel’s Gantz should propose a minority government”

Robert Cherry, National Review: “Understanding the Momentous Decision of Israel’s Arab Joint List: The List’s support of Benny Gantz for PM reflects the improving fortunes of Israel’s Arabs and their desire to further integrate into Israeli society.”

Turkey Local – March 31, 2019 (Istanbul mayoral re-run June 23, 2019)
Freedom House Rating: Not Free (downgraded from Party Free in 2018)
Government Type: Presidential Republic
Population: 81.3 million

Turkey held local elections on March 31, but invalidated the results of the Istanbul mayoral election after Ekrem Imamoglu from the opposition Republican Party (CHP) won by a small margin. They re-ran the election on June 23 after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) alleged fraud. The move did not pay off – Imamoglu defeated AKP’s Binali Yildirim once again, by an even bigger margin. The election took place in the context of Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism.

Although Turkey is not due for general elections until 2023, there have been rumors of possible snap elections. The two biggest parties competing would likely be the conservative and increasingly populist and authoritarian AKP,  and center-left secularist CHP, which was founded by Atatürk himself. Other contenders will include the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), currently AKP’s junior coalition partner; and center-right İyi (Good) Party, which favors a return to a parliamentary system and courts conservative voters who oppose Erdogan.

In August 2019, the Turkish government removed three mayors from Kurdish-majority provinces. The mayors had won in landslides in the March local elections, and their removal – on accusations of terrorism – sparked fury among the opposition and among certain groups within AKP. Notably, Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister, and Abdullah Gül, a former president – both of AKP – criticized the move.

Umar Farooq, Foreign Policy: “Turkey’s Crackdown on Kurdish Mayors Could Backfire: The country’s offensive in northern Syria was preceded by the suppression of the Kurdish political movement at home.”

Lebanon Parliamentary – May 6, 2018
Freedom House Rating: Partly Free
Government Type: Parliamentary Republic
Population: 6.1 million

Lebanon’s complex “confessional democracy” ensures representation for each of its religious denomination. Seats in parliament are allocated among the 18 religious groups, and the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the president is always a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of the parliament is always a Shiite Muslim.

The country held long-delayed parliamentary elections in May 2018, and nine months later finally formed a government, giving Prime Minister Saad Hariri a third term. The Shiite party and militant group Hezbollah increased its seat share to 53 percent. Christian parties also gained seats, while Hariri’s Future Movement lost seats.

Corruption has been a long-standing problem. The Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, which ranks Lebanon 138 out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perception Index, notes: “Partly due to political instability, the country has not established the necessary integrity structures nor are there indications of a strong political will to fight corruption. Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing arrangements fuels patronage networks and clientelism, which undermines further the country’s governance system.”

Tamara Qiblawi, CNN: “Fury at political elites has engulfed Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the country for anti-government protests, paralyzing its economy and blindsiding its government. These are the largest demonstrations the country has seen since March 2005, when mass protests ended a decades-long Syrian military presence in the country. Sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, the protests began in earnest Thursday night [October 17] with demonstrators forcing road closures around the country.”

Mersiha Gadzo, Al Jazeera: “’Change the system’: Lebanese protesters tell the government -Rejecting reform promises, thousands continue protests for sixth day demanding the government resign and hold election.”

Updated October 23, 2019

Vivian Yee, New York Times: “Lebanon Protests Unite Sects in Demanding New Government: Lebanon’s protests, the largest since its independence, have moved from fury over the economy and corruption to demands for a new political system.”

Daniel Estrin and Lama Al-Arian, NPR: “’Baby Shark,’ Drinks And Dancing: Lebanon’s Protests Are Unlike Any Other”

Samia Mekki and Alastair Jamieson, Euronews: “Lebanon protests: Ex-minister Jumblatt urges election to ‘get rid’ of government”

Roula Khalaf, Financial Times: “In this explosion of long simmering anger, a society that often seeks escapism to forget the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s collectively shouted that it had had enough of the corrupt and inept political class that has ruled ever since. My only surprise is that it has taken so long for the anger to spill on to the streets.”

The Year Ahead: Middle East Elections
Egypt local (due 2019 – date not set – delays likely); Libya (international community wants presidential or legislative elections this year – highly unlikely to happen given ongoing civil war); Algeria presidential (December 12); Iran parliamentary (February); Iraq provincial (April 20); Palestinian Authority legislative (elections overdue – new government says they aim to hold elections but no date set)


A protester holds up the Lebanese flag, October 2019. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Shahen books (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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