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WORKSHOP DETAILS

Title: Electoral Frameworks, Party Systems and Electoral Outcomes: Comparing Elections in the Gulf

Workshop Directors:

Luciano Zaccara
Research Assistant Professor
Gulf Studies Center
Qatar University
Qatar

Email: luciano.zaccara@qu.edu.qa
        
Kristin Smith Diwan
Senior Resident Scholar
Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
United States of America

Email: kristin.diwan@agsiw.org
        

Abstract

This workshop examines the transformation of Gulf representative politics through the study of elections.  The onslaught of political challenges in the Gulf – post-2011 popular mobilizations; regional security crises; and oil-induced fiscal pressures – have had a substantial, yet disparate, impact on electoral frameworks, party systems, and electoral outcomes. This workshop seeks to analyze these changes through historical analysis of single countries as well as comparative studies drawn from across the GCC states, Iran and Iraq. While the focus is on elections, we welcome broader reflections, beyond electoral laws and process (funding, campaigning, monitoring), to political behavior (ideology, cleavages, participation) and political meaning (policies, identities):  not only how, but also why and to what end.

Description and Rationale

The ‘Arab Spring’ that started in Tunisia in December 2010 generated a wave of popular mobilization that materialized in very few, but significant, electoral and institutional reforms. New constitutions were adopted in Morocco and Tunisia, with the latter experiencing a complete change in the ruling regime. In the Gulf region (the six GCC states, Iran, Iraq and Yemen), the emphasis was on reform, with some steps taken to expand electorates, such as the Saudi Arabia’s decision to grant the vote to women in 2013, and the UAE decision to substantially increase its electoral college for the 2015 elections. Other states made some efforts to show transparency and competitiveness of electoral processes, such as Iran, Iraq, and Oman.

However, the amplified demands of the opposition were also met with new restrictions on participation, such as the dissolution of the main Bahrain opposition society, al-Wefaq, and the exclusion of religious officials and those arrested on blasphemy and lese majeste convictions in Bahrain and Kuwait, respectively.

The lack of substantial improvements in electoral frameworks, or in some cases, changes perceived as detrimental to the opposition, seem to have discouraged turnout in elections, with boycotts undertaken in Kuwait and Bahrain. Meanwhile, the lack of political agreement in Iraq, despite the reportedly clean elections of 2014, generated a political crisis that is still ongoing. On the other hand, the repression of political demonstrations after the 2009 Iranian presidential elections was not replicated in 2013, with population interest in engaging in elections recovering, at least at the presidential level.

After the Arab Spring all the countries included in the Gulf region held elections, as follows:

Country

Type of election

Date

Qatar

Municipal elections

May 2011

UAE

Legislative elections

September 2011

Saudi Arabia

Municipal elections

September 2011

Bahrain

Legislative by-elections

September 2011

Oman

Legislative elections

October 2011

Kuwait

Legislative elections

February 2012

Yemen

Presidential elections

February 2012

Iran

Legislative elections

March 2012

Kuwait

Legislative elections

December 2012

Iran

Presidential elections

June 2013

Kuwait

Legislative elections

July 2013

Iraq

Legislative and Kurdish regional elections

April 2014

Kuwait

Legislative by-elections

July 2014

Bahrain

Legislative elections

November 2014

Qatar

Municipal elections

May 2015

UAE

Legislative elections

October 2915

Oman

Legislative elections

October 2015

Saudi Arabia

Municipal elections

December 2015

Iran

Legislative and Assembly of Experts elections

February 2016

Kuwait

Legislative elections

November 2016

Iran

Presidential elections

May 2017

 

Many of these elections were undertaken with significant changes in timing, electoral districting, and voting procedures, but with different aims and outcomes, making the comparative analysis of these changes worthy of study. This workshop will thus welcome an examination of the impact of the Arab Spring on elections in all of their aspects: electoral frameworks and laws, party systems, election turnout, and election results. More generally, we welcome papers that comparatively analyze the role of parties, political groups and associations, as well as electoral campaigns and election monitoring.

At the same time, this workshop welcomes a deeper questioning of elections beyond process to political meaning: Do electoral changes represent a response to the demands of local populations, or do they serve the interests of political and economic elite? What is the value of elections for institutions without effective policy making and legislative powers? Why do candidates run for elective positions and why do people vote? Are elections conducted in the Gulf region meaningful?

Anticipated Participants

The workshop is seeking theoretically strong and empirically grounded papers. Comparative papers as well as single case study analysis are welcome, with the regional cases providing plenty of opportunities for analyzing the same type of elections across different countries.

Papers on the following specific topics will be welcomed:

  • Electoral turnout/political behavior
  • Election management and funding
  • Electoral monitoring and observation
  • Transparency/integrity of elections
  • Role of political parties/association/groups
  • Tribal/religious/ideological cleavages
  • Comparative analysis of legislative/municipal elections in two or more cases
  • Historical comparative analysis of elections in the same country
  • Performance of elected candidates/ electoral campaigning

Workshop Director Profiles

Luciano Zaccara is Research Assistant Professor in Gulf Politics at the Qatar University Gulf Studies Center. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, a Honorary Research Fellow at the Exeter University Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in United Kingdom, and Director of the Observatory on Politics and Elections in the Arab and Muslim World in Spain. He obtained a BA in Political Science from National University of Rosario, Argentina, and a PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies from Autonoma University of Madrid, Spain.

His research focuses on the political and electoral systems in Iran and the GCC countries as well as international politics in the Gulf. He has published an edited volume on Electoral Processes in Middle East and North Africa (in Spanish), and numerous articles, chapters and a monograph on Iranian and Gulf politics. He is founder and director of the Spanish OPEMAM project (Observatory on Politics and Elections in Arab and Muslim Countries) composed of more than fifteen researchers.

Kristin Smith Diwan is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C. She works in both comparative politics and international relations and specializes in Arab and Islamist politics. Her current projects concern political activism, generational change, and the evolution of Islamism in the GCC states. Her analyses of Gulf affairs have appeared in many publications, among them Geopolitics, Middle East Report, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy.

Diwan was previously an assistant professor at the American University School of International Service where she still teaches in an adjunct capacity. She has held visiting scholar positions at both the George Washington University Institute for Middle East Studies and the Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. From 2013-14, she served as a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Hariri Center for the Middle East where she published on youth movements and participated in the Strategic Dialogue for a New US-Gulf Partnership.  She received her PhD in political science from Harvard University and holds an MA in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Selected Readings

Al‐Ghanim, Mohammed (2010), Do Elections Lead To Reform? Assessing the Institutional Limits of Representative Bodies in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Contemporary Arab Affairs, 3:2, 138-147.

Diwan, Kristin (2015), “Between Popular Representation and the State: The Politics of Municipal Council Elections in the GCC”, AGSIW available at: http://www.agsiw.org/between-popular-representation-and-the-state-the-politics-of-municipal-council-elections-in-the-gcc/.

Ehteshami, Anoush and Zaccara, Luciano (2013), “Reflections on Iran's 2013 Presidential Elections”, in Orient, German Journal on Politics, Economics and Culture of the Middle East, Vol IV, issue 54, pp. 7-14.

Kraetzschmar, Hendrik (2010), “Electoral Rules, Voter Mobilization and the Islamist Landslide in the Saudi Municipal Elections of 2005”, Contemporary Arab Affairs, 3:4, pp. 515-533.

Valeri, Marc (2012), “Oman's Consultative Council Elections 2011”, OPEMAM Election Watch Analysis, available at: http://www.opemam.org/sites/default/files/ER-Oman-Consultative-Council-2011.pdf .

Valeri, Marc (2011), “Bahrain's Parliamentary Elections 2010”, OPEMAM Election Watch Analysis, available at http://www.opemam.org/sites/default/files/ER-Bahrain_parliamentary_2010.pdf.

Visser, Reidar (2014), “Iraq: Democracy and Electoral Politics in Post-Saddam Era” in Mahmoud Hamad and Khalil Al-Anani (eds.), Elections and Democratization in the Middle East: The Tenacious Search for Freedom, Justice, and Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 133-152).

Zaccara, Luciano (2014), “Elections and Democratization in Iran”, in Mahmoud Hamad and Khalil Al-Anani (eds.), Elections and Democratization in the Middle East: The Tenacious Search for Freedom, Justice, and Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 153-179).

Zaccara, Luciano (2013), “Comparing Elections in Gulf Cooperation Council Countries after the Arab Spring: The United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait”, Journal of Arabian Studies, vol. 3.1, pp. 80–101.

Zaccara, Luciano (2011), “Qatar Central Municipal Council elections 2011”, OPEMAM Election Watch Analysis, available at http://www.opemam.org/sites/default/files/ER-Qatar-CMC-2011.pdf.