Middle East Election Update
In a region where geopolitics dominates, it is easy to miss that there have been a lot of election activity in recent months. Like everywhere else, politics is proving to be more dynamic, more local, and often surprising, but in these three countries, not necessarily destabilising.
In Lebanon, the much-delayed general elections occurred with a nearly 50% turnout. It is generally considered a big victory for pro-Iranian groups with just under 70 out of 128 seats going to an alliance of candidates controlled by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (the largest Christian party). This is probably a formalisation of existing political dynamics, and even Saad Hariri (the biggest electoral causality) returns as PM (as the seat is reserved for Sunnis). Looking forward, the economic agenda is expected to take centre stage, barring any regional escalations relating to Syria or Iran.
A few days after Lebanon, Iraq took to the polls. While the Shiite parties dominated – as one might expect in a Shiite-majority country – the elections sprang a few surprises. The biggest victory came from the independently-minded Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who surprisingly aligned with communists and nationalists and ran a campaign that was unusually critical of Iran. Although the turnout of 45% was disappointing, politics may be moving more openly across sectarian divides yielding unusual results. For example, a secular female candidate (a communist community leader) won the largest vote in the holy (and very religious) city of Najaf. However, the result has since been contested and Iraq’s supreme court have ordered a manual recount of all votes meaning that the formation of a new government could drag on for some time.
Tunisia has also had its first municipal elections since the 2011 uprising, and the independent local candidates scored the best results. With huge inequalities in state funds allocated to coastal towns versus the more rural regions, it will be interesting to see if the results of these elections do anything to help redress this imbalance.