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Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East

From: Journal of Democracy
Volume 20, Number 3, July 2009
pp. 122-135 | 10.1353/jod.0.0099



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 proregime parliaments and allow incumbent elites to manage elections largely through institutional rules rather than extralegal manipulation. The article concludes by considering mechanisms that may more effectively help to foster democratization, given the logic of authoritarian elections.