MS Risk Blog

Election Period in the Middle East

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The Middle East has been in an election atmosphere for the past two months with Lebanon starting first followed by Iraq and Turkey. The election results however seem to have caused tensions and concern across the countries and analysts trying to interpret the results and their meanings regarding the future.

While last month’s elections in Lebanon were peaceful, the election results were a victory for Hezbollah which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah now represents 14 seats in the cabinet and as analysts have stated, it now forms a resistance government, further presenting its militias and becoming more appealing to the public. Nevertheless, weeks later a cabinet is yet to be formed as recent efforts exerted by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have failed to make a breakthrough in the government formation process. The delay in the cabinet formation process is mainly due to the representation of Christians amid conflicting demands by the LF from one side and the FPM and President Aoun from another side. The LF wants the seat of the deputy Prime Minister, whereas the president says it is his right to appoint him and some other ministers in order to monitor the cabinet’s work. Also, Bassil, who is Aoun’s son-in-law, wants the FPM to retain the strongest Christian representation in the new cabinet by strongly rejecting demands by the LF to be represented by more than three ministerial portfolios.  Aoun last week toughened his position on the LF’s demand for key ministerial posts in the new government, by declaring it is his constitutional right to choose the deputy prime minister and some other ministers in order to monitor the Cabinet’s performance. The statement was also perceived to be a message to Hariri, who supposedly supported the LF’s push for wide representation in Cabinet.Cabinet formation efforts are likely to be delayed further with the absence of Hariri, who is set to leave Beirut on a vacation with his family this week. The political uncertainty in Lebanon is another challenge the country has to face along the Syrian war and its economic crisis which seems to keep exacerbating despite the international support.

On the other hand, Iraq had its elections in a tense atmosphere over security reasons as clashes and multiple suicide bombings took place in different ballot boxes across the country with another attack only yesterday in Kirkuk- wounding 19 people. The election results indicate deep divisions within Iraqi politics. The results delivered a victory to the “Saʾirun” (“on the march”) pre-election alliance. This grouping represents an alignment between the “Sadrist Movement,” led by Shiʿi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the “al-Nasr” party (the “Victory Alliance”), spearheaded by incumbent Prime Minister and Western ally, Haydar al-ʿAbadi. Yet, the Sadr camp is also known for its anti-American stance. Sadr and his militia, originally known as the Mahdi Army, battled U.S. army forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.  However, in recent weeks, reports of electoral fraud, unprecedented in post 2003 Iraq, have cast a shadow over the results. Due to the change from manual to digital vote counting in this year’s election, there are suspicions of fraud throughout the country. The newly appointed panel of judges in charge of the election commission announced it would only manually recount votes in the areas where there were fraud allegations. Ballot boxes from these areas will be transferred to Baghdad, and the recount will be held under United Nations supervision at a time and place that has yet to be determined. The scope of the recount is still unclear and the specific areas that will have their ballots recounted have not been named. The outgoing parliament, whose term constitutionally expired at the end of June, but no new leadership has been confirmed. Yesterday it was announced that the manual recount of the national election votes is to begin today, Tuesday. Only suspect ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports on fraud will be recounted, a spokesman for the panel of judges conducting the recount said. The manual recount will be conducted in the presence of representatives from the United Nations, foreign embassies and political parties; as well as local and international observers, members of the media, and the Ministries of Defense and the Interior. The uncertainty surrounding the final results has leaft Iraq in a state of limbo whilst lapses in security in disputed areas could lead to a swift fall should an attack occur according to officials.

In Turkey, the elections that took place last week and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won re-election with an outright majority in the first round, on 52.55% of the vote with 99% of ballots opened. His biggest challenger, Muharrem İnce, came second with 30.67% of the vote – an impressive challenge but not enough to force a second-round run-off.  While deadly clashes took place during the election tour, the result of the election have widely been accepted and Erdoğan is to have his inauguration next Monday, as it was announced yesterday. There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but the elections took place in what Amnesty International described as a “climate of fear”. The country is still under a state of emergency in place since a coup attempt in July 2016, one of the presidential candidates is in prison and his party, the HDP, has been widely persecuted with hundreds of cadres and officials arrested in the last two years. The vast majority of the media are owned by allies of the president, transforming most news outlets into a loyalist press, and those who do criticise the government, like the oldest newspaper in the country, Cumhuriyet, are prosecuted on baseless allegations of abetting terrorism. Mr. Erdoğan is expected to receive more power in the decisions in the Parliament due to the constitutional changes approved last year- his opponents say the constitution means Mr Erdogan no longer presides over a government, but a regime. At the same time local media has reported that the state of emergency, first enacted in 2016, will not be extended next month. Nevertheless, it seems like the political and economic uncertainties looming over the Turkish markets for some time, have started clearing away. In fact, yesterday it was reported that the Turkish lira decoupled from its peers following the June 24 elections, appreciating nearly 2 percent against the U.S. dollar last week.

Analysts are expecting to say more and new changes in the Middle East especially in Turkey as the President has more power in the country than ever. At the same time, a cloud of uncertainty has surrounded the region, as Iraq and Lebanon are still battling for stability.