Democratization by Elections? Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East

Issue Date July 2009
Volume 20
Issue 3
Page Numbers 122-135
file Print
external View Citation

This article reconsiders the relationship between authoritarian elections and democratization. Examining legislative elections in the Middle East, it argues that elections are best understood as “competitive clientelism,” a competition between elites over privileged access to a limited set of state resources that they can then distribute to their clients. This drives the behavior of voters and candidates in systematic ways that promote pro-regime parliaments and allows incumbent elites to manage elections largely through institutional rules rather than extralegal manipulation. Elections thus provide an efficient mechanism for the distribution of patronage—easing the state elites’ ability to reward local elites, and creating a belief that even if they are unable to gain access to state resources today, they have the opportunity to do so in the future. The article concludes by considering mechanisms that may more effectively help to foster democratization, given the logic of authoritarian elections.