GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Kristin Smith
Title of Paper:
Election Boycotts in Kuwait & Bahrain: political pressure or political suicide?
Paper Proposal Text :
The post-2011 political landscape in the parliamentary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) presented difficult choices for political societies and representatives. Street mobilizations siphoned popular appeal away from members of parliament and parliamentary blocs, toward grassroots movements. Ruling-family-led executives reacted to these new challenges to their rule through suppression and through rule changes: re-designing electoral districts and voting laws. Caught between popular demands to reject participation and government reforms that harmed electoral chances, many opposition blocs and politicians chose to boycott elections.

This paper reviews these decisions and their outcomes, assessing the effectiveness of electoral boycotts in Gulf parliamentary monarchies. Drawing upon personal interviews, news sources and primary documents, I will establish the context for boycott in the two countries in terms of popular pressure, objectives, coalitional cohesion, and international pressure. The analysis will be comparative, drawing upon two country cases, Bahrain and Kuwait, but also upon strategies of differing blocs within Kuwait. The context for political decisions will draw upon the literature on electoral authoritarianism and authoritarian adaptation.

The paper will conclude that while boycotts can be leveraged for benefits by individual politicians and blocs, they have proven ineffective in forcing a structural or systematic change in ruling governance: the objective of the boycotts. Moreover, the benefits of participation, and huge cost to non-participation, prove difficult to sustain over time.