January 15, 2014

TSG IntelBrief: Middle East and Afghan Elections 2014: Candidates & Consequences

• Eight countries of the Middle East and Afghanistan have elections scheduled for 2014, representing another significant test for the will of the people, transfer of power and germination of institutions, post-Arab spring

• The leaders who take over following elections in Egypt, Iraq and  Afghanistan will likely establish themselves as uncompromising with opposition, fueling a narrative of persecution among political and militant opponents in respective countries.

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A Big Test For Democracy

The Spring of 2014 is shaping up to be another transformative period in the Middle East and beyond as the region continues various political overhauls with election of presidents, parliaments, and constitution-drafting bodies. Eight countries of the Middle East and Afghanistan have elections scheduled. Of particular relevance to current and legacy US foreign policy are Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.??


Candidates and Consequences

Egypt: Following the July 2013 removal of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s military-led government rolled out a road map for the process, first with election of a new parliament and then a president. In December 2013, however, interim president Adly Mansour yielded to demands for a change in sequence; first a leader and then parliamentary elections. As a result Egyptians will likely vote for president as early as April 2014, and the name on everyone’s mind is armed forces chief and defense minister Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. In recent interviews he was somewhat circumspect on running, with his comment of “it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army,” but he also referred to a destiny that includes Egypt’s highest office.

The January 14-15 referendum stipulates “[the] first of the elections should be begin no later than 90 days from the ratification of the constitution.” Thus, Egyptians will likely elect a president who will move quickly to consolidate power, before—and if—opening polls to elect parliament.

Iraq: Amid increased sectarian tensions and significantly increased violence in Anbar Province, Iraq’s parliamentary elections are likely to be another catalyst for turmoil. The scheduled April 30 elections will determine composition of the 328 member Council of Representatives who will in turn elect the president and prime minister. Related to a dubious supreme court decision in August 2013, incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be eligible to seek a third term this year.

Despite al-Maliki’s control over the supreme court, and resulting advantage, Iraq’s first post-US intervention elections are not foregone conclusions. Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc suffered disappointing results in April 2013 provincial elections, and other Shi’a parties have stepped up opposition to al-Maliki, namely the Sadrist Movement and the Supreme Islamic Council led by Ammar al-Hakim.

With Sunni political blocs significantly fragmented, though, it’s highly likely the country’s April parliamentary elections will pave the way for a Shi’a prime minister to retain power.

Afghanistan: Afghans will elect their next president on April 5, 2014, choosing from 11 candidates. Initially, 27 contenders submitted their names for the ballot, but the Independent Election Committee disqualified 16 almost immediately due to documentation requirements. The greatly-disenchanted-with-the-US Hamid Karzai is ineligible to run due to term limits. However, his older brother Qayum is running, though an outlying candidate at best. According to data as of the end of 2013, the front running candidate with 27 percent is Dr Abdullah Abdullah, head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan, trailed by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister, with 19 percent of voter support.

Karzai defeated Abdullah in 2009, amidst a controversial runoff election, but he has come to represent the most viable democratic opposition to Karzai’s crony politics. With Karzai out of the picture, Abdullah’s chances for winning a fair election are improved. His campaign promises to engage the Taliban and revive the economy—apt under the circumstances—are impressively ambitious. Abdullah will soon realize, however, his biggest challenge was not taking Karzai’s job but dealing with the other election vow to dismantle the chronically corrupt bureaucracy.


Strategic Implications

The most immediate upshot of the elections in Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan—with the likes of General al-Sisi, Prime Minister al-Maliki (or other Shi’a leader) and Dr Abdullah as respective heads of state—is foreboding for opposition,  Islamist or otherwise. Al-Sisi has demonstrated zero tolerance for political-process inclusion of the Muslim Brothers or any form of populist Islam, and it remains to be seen if he’ll abide any secular opposition. In Iraq, the re-election of al-Maliki and new-Iraq status quo will likely reaffirm Sunni internal casus belli. Afghanistan’s Abdullah is known for a consistently anti-Taliban position and not-forgotten close relationship with former Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. In all three scenarios and their respective local contexts and circumstances, religious and secular opposition—whether oriented politically or extremely—will reject the elections.   .

    • Violence will persist in Afghanistan and Iraq as they prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in April

• In Egypt, the military-led regime will nominate a candidate—almost certainly al-Sisi—and after taking the presidency, significantly influence parliamentary elections

• In Iraq, Shi’a political parties rivaling al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc will win the preponderance of parliamentary elections seats on April 30; the result may be a new Shi’a prime minister in Iraq

• In Afghanistan, Abdullah will win the presidency in the absence of Karzai on the ballot, but he will find campaign ambitions extraordinarily challenging to fulfill.


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