Electoral Systems and Democracy

Palestinian and South African Elections Compared

by Hady Amr
published in MER201

This year has witnessed some important electoral developments in the Middle East and surrounding areas, with elections being held in Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh and Bosnia. [1] Some of these elections have been especially interesting in terms of what they have revealed about the potential for electoral systems -- the rules by which winners are determined -- to shape public policy, communal identity and how groups -- be they ethnic, religious or political -- interact. The different electoral systems newly instituted in Palestine and South Africa have had a profound impact on shaping electoral outcomes in their respective political systems and, arguably, on social and political policy and communal identity.

On Elections in Israel

by Baruch Kimmerling
published in MER201

On June 5, 1996, Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) became the ninth prime minister of Israel. Soon after his election he successfully replaced the ruling Labor-led coalition with a Likud-led coalition of secular and religious right-wing parties led by his ruling Likud party. This was the third electoral upset in Israel since 1977 when an alignment of parties headed by Herut’s leader Menachem Begin was able, for the first time, to oust the ruling Labor Party. [1] The second upset came in 1992 when a coalition of parties led by Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party was able to regain control of the Knesset.

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Skirting Democracy

Lebanon's 1996 Elections and Beyond

by Paul Salem
published in MER203

The practice of selecting political representatives by voting is not new to Lebanon. The parliamentary framework of modern electoral life in Lebanon was established in the 1926 constitution. Elections were held regularly during the French Mandate period, except for interruptions during World War II. Throughout the Mandate period, two thirds of the parliament was elected on the basis of universal male suffrage (women first voted in the 1950s); the remaining one third was appointed by the French authorities. The practice of appointment ended at independence in 1943.

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Charting Elections in the Middle East

by Mark LeVine
published in MER209

Although Middle Eastern countries have seen a dramatic rise in the number of national elections, there is a significant problem with “charting” the march of democracy in the region through a narrowly focused analysis of electoral processes. Numerous political, economic and cultural forces affecting electoral outcomes are easily overlooked, particularly in studies of elections that frame such processes within the borders of the nation-state.

Winner Takes All

A Regime's Guide to Successful Elections

by Iris Glosemeyer
published in MER209

Eight Ways to Make Elections Risk-Free

1. When drawing the lines of the constituencies, remember to integrate as many opposition supporters as possible into your own constituencies and to transfer as many of your own supporters as necessary into the opposition’s strongholds in order to maintain the majority in both constituencies. Add some soldiers if necessary.

2. Make sure that there are no election observers around while you register the votes.

3. Invite the election observers only on short notice in order to prevent them from preparing the observation properly.

4. Discredit the opposition as being either Islamist or Communist, or being employed by a foreign government or all of the above.

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Mission: Democracy

by Sheila Carapico
published in MER209

Incumbent national leaders invite foreign election monitors only when it is in their interest to do so. Rarely is significant financial assistance “conditional” on holding elections, although it does improve a regime’s image abroad to do so. For governments being observed, the trick is to orchestrate the process enough to win, but not enough to arouse observers’ suspicions.

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The Malaise of Turkish Democracy

by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş
published in MER209

In his first televised interview in late 1996, just months after taking office, an avuncular-looking Necmettin Erbakan seemed unsurprised at a question about his taste in clothing. “Mr. Prime Minister, we hear that you favor ties by the Italian designer Versace,” said commentator Mehmet Ali Birand. “What is it about Versace that you like?” His half-smile unfading, Turkey’s first-ever Islamist prime minister answered that “this particular Western designer seems to have borrowed from Islamic aesthetics and Oriental patterns.”

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Perspectives on Elections from the Arab World

by Hani Hourani , Issam Naaman , Sion Assidon , Mohamed Karam , Mudar Kassis
published in MER209

Some of the material in this issue of Middle East Report was generated at the October 2-3, 1998 conference on “Multi-Party Elections in the Arab World: Controlled Contestation and Opposition Strategies,” which as organized by MERIP board members Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Jillian Schwedler. The conference was sponsored by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in cooperation with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. We are grateful to these institutions for enabling us to publish the excerpts below.

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A Paradox of Democracy?

Islamist Participation in Elections

by Jillian Schwedler
published in MER209

On April 27, 1997, Muhammad Zabara stood outside a polling station in the old city of Sanaa. In a neatly pressed suit and tie, his short hair and mustache freshly trimmed, he greeted voters who had turned out for Yemen’s second post-unification parliamentary elections. A team of Western election monitors approached him and asked whether he was a candidate. In English, he answered that he was the district’s candidate from the Yemeni Reform Group, a conservative party with an Islamist agenda. “But Ahmad Raqihi is the Islamist candidate for this district,” said one of the monitors, referring to Zabara’s main rival, who dons a turban and beard. “You don’t even look like an Islamist.” [1]

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