Multi-Party Elections in the Arab World: Institutional Engineering and Oppositional Strategies

Document Type



Published by Transaction Publishers in Studies in Comparative International Development Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 34-62.

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Political campaigns;Middle East;Politics;Government;Institutional Engineering


Transaction Publishers

Publication Source

Studies in Comparative International Development


Recent moves toward multi-party competition for elected legislatures in numerous Arab countries constitute a significant departure from earlier practices there, and create the basis for democratic activists to gradually chip away at persistent authoritarian rule. This article explores the institutional mechanisms by which incumbent authoritarian executives seek to engineer these elections. It documents examples of rulers changing electoral systems to ensure compliant legislatures, and demonstrates the prevalent use of winner-takes-all electoral systems, which generally work to the regimes' advantage. I then review various strategies of opposition forces--boycotts, non-competition agreements, election monitoring, and struggles over election rules--and the dilemmas that these entail. Surmounting differences in terms of ideologies, as well as short-term political goals and prospects, is a central challenge. The future should see greater electoral participation among opposition activists, along with cleaner elections. As vote coercion and ballot box stuffing is restricted by opposition pressures, electoral institutions will take on greater importance, and struggles for proportional representation are likely to increase.