Elections in MENA

With an exchange of accusations and recriminations, Tunisia's electoral debate has been tense.
Saturday 07/09/2019
Algerian demonstrators take to the streets in the capital to protest against the government, in Algeria, Friday, September 6. (AFP)
Algerian demonstrators take to the streets in the capital to protest against the government, in Algeria, Friday, September 6. (AFP)

Forthcoming elections in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond will be important to monitor. Such events could have a bearing on the pervasive tensions and uncertainties of the region.

In the Maghreb, elections will be a crucial factor for internal stability. The democratic process in Tunisia will depend to a great extent on the September 15 vote for president. No fewer than 26 candidates will compete to replace late President Beji Caid Essebsi.

With the exchange of accusations and recriminations, the electoral debate has been tense. The modernist camp is anguished over the high number of candidates appealing to its voter base. Many of the contenders, secularists and Islamists, have a chance at securing a slot in the second round. Results could ride on a few thousand votes. The same uncertainty characterises legislative elections expected in October.

Tunisia needs a minimum level of political stability and cohesion to spur its economy to a level of growth capable of creating enough jobs and opportunities for its discontented young population. The country needs a steady hand at the helm to meet the challenge of security at home and in the neighbouring region.

In Algeria, organising elections would be a crucial step to overcoming the country’s upheaval, which has lasted more than six months. On September 2, Algerian Army Chief-of-Staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah called for setting in motion the procedures that could ensure that elections take place this year.

Algeria’s state news agency cited Gaid Salah saying that “it was appropriate to summon the electorate on September 15.” He added that “elections can be held within the deadlines provided for by law.”

The country’s election law states that Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah must issue the necessary decree for summoning the electoral college so voting could take place in December.

The Algerian Army’s attempts at keeping control of the situation are frustrated by the refusal of protest leaders of any accommodation that does not include a complete overhaul of the electoral law and a total purge of members of the Bouteflika regime.

Gaid Salah warned that the army would “not tolerate any attempt to undermine the work of state institutions.”

Algeria has avoided the bloodshed that marked uprisings in the region since 2011. The future of the country’s peace and that of its hydrocarbon-rich economy hinges, to a great extent, on Algerian elites’ ability to restore stability and go back to work.

In another part of the Middle East, Palestinians are not pinning much hope on the outcome of the forthcoming Israeli vote. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to strongly believe in his chances to beat Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz, his main rival, in the elections scheduled for September 17.

Ganz might think, as he said recently, that Netanyahu’s “contributions to the State of Israel have ended” but the Israeli prime minister does not see it that way. He is multiplying his moves towards cementing his right-wing base of support. On September 1, he announced again his intent to annex West Bank settlements.

“With God’s help we will extend Jewish sovereignty to all the settlements as part of the (biblical) Land of Israel, as part of the State of Israel,” he said.

During his campaign, Netanyahu is keeping a close embrace of US President Donald Trump, who has moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

Not willing to cause adverse ripples in Netanyahu’s campaign, Washington has consistently postponed the unveiling of its long-awaited Palestinian-Israeli peace plan until after Israel’s elections. For an administration that is not interested in unsettling its traditionally close ties to its Israeli allies, especially ahead of the US 2020 vote, the eternally elusive Palestinian peace formula will have to wait a little bit more.

Even if peacemaking is not one of the chief concerns of the Israeli contenders, there could be an Arab factor involved in the vote.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab faction in the Israeli parliament, has reached out to Gantz, reflecting a new desire by the Arab minority, which constitutes one-fifth of the population of Israel, to be part of the electoral process and of any future Blue and White government.

“The truth is we could be the real deciding factor in this election,” Odeh told the Associated Press.

6