Over the past decade, the states of the Arabian Peninsula have taken strides to liberalize their political systems. They have convened elections for different types of representative bodies and have liberalized their economies more than ever before. Some countries have even systematized these elections over time. While the political science literature views elections as a significant step towards political liberalization, it remains unclear whether or not elections in authoritarian settings actually lead to more meaningful reforms. This paper considers the institutional set-up and limits that are placed on representative bodies in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and how these inhibit manifestation of additional reforms.


Comparative political scientists have always studied elections and the extent to which, if at all, they alter political trajectories. More recently, comparativists have expanded their focus by examining elections in non-democratic or authoritarian states. Their concern is whether or not elections under autocratic structures are in fact, meaningful (e.g., Posusney 2005). Although the question itself is quite significant, the method that scholars adopt is limited in its current form. Two issues are continually examined. The first concerns electoral procedures and outcomes (O’Donnell and Schmitter 1986, p. 62). Scholars interested in this subject study voting patterns and turnout levels, and their implications on the overall outcome (Norris 1997). The second set of issues that scholars examine is regime manipulation of electoral systems and processes, and why different parties are included or excluded from participating in elections (Lust-Okar 2005, pp. 75–88). Although these approaches are important to understanding electoral processes, they rarely reflect on the nexus between elections and political change. This paper aims to address this question by ascertaining whether or not a correlation between elections and political reform exists in the autocratic states of Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. It is argued that there is no causal relationship between the two: although elections are crucial benchmarks for political reform, institutional weaknesses curtail reform from ‘spilling over’ into alternate political arenas.

Read full text here Do elections lead to reform? Assessing the institutional limits of representative bodies in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia



Institutional limits




Saudi Arabia

Arabian Peninsula