In the last few months, Egypt, Syria and Algeria held presidential elections in which winning candidates received overwhelming majorities of the vote. In Egypt, the former Egyptian military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi received an astounding 95.3% of votes. Ironically enough, in one interview, Sisi thanked his opponent Sabahi for "offering a serious opportunity for electoral competition. Egypt experienced a low voter turnout of 48% this election, despite the extra day of voting.
Similarly, in Algeria the incumbent president Abdelaziz Bouteflika won re-election with 81.5% of the vote with voter turnout at just 51.7%. The results in Egypt and Algeria reflect a dangerous trend of fraudulent elections throughout the Middle East where low voter turnout and a lack of political diversity in elections fail to accurately capture and represent the will of citizens.
Although many countries claim to hold free and fair elections, these elections cannot truly be considered democratic when there is a lack of political opposition and diversity, low voter turnout, voter fraud and political repression. In the case of war-torn Syria, which opened polls yesterday, an election cannot be considered legitimate when a majority of the country has been displaced, destabilized and plagued by state-sponsored violence.
More often than not, leaders within these totalitarian states use the façade of free and fair elections to legitimize the basis of their rule to the international community. However, there is clearly a widespread desire and need for more transparent and democratic political processes in the region, as evidenced by the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in many countries including Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. Until governments are able to hold elections that honor political diversity and freedom of expression, many groups within these societies will remain frustrated, disenfranchised and disempowered, which poses a threat to the economic and social development of these nations.
In light of these recent events, let’s take a look at the Middle East’s long history of dubiously democratic elections.