The State of Legislative Elections in the Middle East and North Africa: A Research Report


Analytical Framework

For this report, MENAACTION presents the findings of our most recent research project on the state of legislative elections in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We compared the difference between voting age and candidacy age in each country in the region; we studied the variation between the national average for voter turnout in the most recent elections in each country and the voter turnout rates for youth; we outlined the percentage of women in each country’s legislative councils; and we illustrated the dates for the upcoming legislative elections in each country in the region. Before delving into the findings of the research, it is important to outline a number of important definitions. 

  • Legislative Assemblies: A branch of government that generally has the authority to make laws and keep other branches accountable. The formation and roles of a legislative assembly varies by country; whereby in many countries, members are appointed, and their roles are just a formality. It is also worth mentioning that legislative assemblies’ names vary from country to another, including the House of Representatives, People’s National Assembly, the Parliament, the House of Deputies, and the Shura Council, among others. 
  • Voting Age: The minimum age established by law that a person must attain before they become eligible to vote. The most common voting age is 18, but some countries require different ages.
  • Candidacy Age: The minimum age at which a person can legally qualify to stand or run for elections or hold certain elected offices.
  • Voter turnout: The percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. This is calculated by dividing the number of those who cast ballots over the total number of voting-eligible population (not the total adult population).
  • Youth Voter Turnout: The percentage of youth eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. This is calculated by dividing the number of young people under 30, who cast ballots, divided over the total number of voting-eligible population.

For this research, we relied on raw data produced by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the World Values Survey Wave 7, the Arab Barometer Wave V, and the Afro-Barometer Wave 7. 

Voting Age vs. Candidacy Age

Looking at the difference between voting age and candidacy age, we find that 14 of 21 countries in the region adhere to universal suffrage, placing the minimum age legally required to vote at 18 calendar years, culminating into an average of 18.67 years. Additionally, 7 different countries adopted different internal laws stipulating other ages. For example, Iran chose the minimum legal age required at 15 (as the lowest minimum age required in the region); Sudan selected 17; Bahrain selected 20; Kuwait, Lebanon, and Oman require 21 years of age; and the UAE require 25 years of age as the highest minimum age required in the region. 

As for the minimum legal age required for citizens to stand for or run for legislative elections, also known as candidacy age, we found that Morocco and Tunisia stipulate the lowest age in the region with 23 years of age while Sudan has the highest candidacy age of 40. Further, 9 different countries selected 25 as the most common minimum age required to run for legislative elections. These countries are Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Turkey, UAE, and Yemen. Additionally, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar require 30, as Palestine selected 28, albeit the last legislative elections they had was back in 2006. Overall, the average candidacy age in the region was found to be 27.57. 

Voting Age vs. Candidacy Age

Voter Turnout in the Latest Legislative Elections

We, then, looked at the voter turnout rates for the most recent legislative elections in each country. As indicated earlier, voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who voted in an election. The percentage is calculated by dividing the number of those who voted (without any violations) over the total voting-eligible population (not to be mistaken with the total adult population). There are a number of factors we did not delve into in this research, such as voting laws, registration laws, and whether voting is compulsory or not. 

With that, we found that Turkey holds the highest voter turnout with 86.2%, recorded at the legislative elections of 2018. It is indicated that Turkey has, theoretically, compulsory voting, but it is not enforced. Palestine’s 2006 legislative elections (the most recent in Palestine) recorded a 77.7% voter turnout. Third, Yemen recorded 75% voter turnout, albeit back in 2003, which is still the most recent legislative elections in Yemen, as subsequent rounds have not seen the light since then. Qatar’s 2016 and Mauritania’s 2018 legislative elections recorded 72.5% each in voter turnout, followed by 70% for Kuwait. Bahrain recorded 67% voter turnout in their legislative elections of 2018, followed by Syria with 57.6% in 2016. It is worth mentioning that there was not sufficient, accurate, or reliable data for Syria’s elections for the People’s National Assembly held in July of 2020. Nonetheless, Lebanon’s 2018 legislative elections recorded a turnout of 49.7%, followed by Oman’s 2019 elections with 49%, Sudan’s 2015 legislative elections with 46.4%, Iraq with 44.9%, Morocco’s 2016 legislative elections with 43%, Iran’s 2020 legislative elections with a voter turnout of 42.3%, and Tunisia and Libya with 41.7% in 2019 and 2014 respectively. On that note, Libya has not yet held legislative elections since 2014. Furthermore, Jordan’s 2016 legislative elections recorded a voter turnout of 36.1%, as registration is automatic. Algeria’s 2017 legislative elections recorded 35.4%, amid boycott calls. UAE’s 2019 Federal National Council elections resulted in 34.8% in voter turnout, albeit voting for 50% of the 40-member council, as the remaining 20 members are appointed. Finally, Egypt’s 2015 House of Representatives elections yielded the lowest voter turnout in the region with 28.3%. It is also worth mentioning that members of the Shura Council in Saudi are directly appointed. 

There a number of factors impacting voter turnout. These factors include electoral competitiveness, confidence in elections, electoral laws, registration process, and the socioeconomic status of the voter. Meaning, if elections are held on a weekday, voters who are not well-off may not afford asking their employers for a day off. Additionally, voting stations may not be easily accessible to everyone. Furthermore, we found low levels of confidence in both the electoral process and in legislative councils across the MENA region, whereby 50% indicated that they did not trust their national parliaments at all, coupled with 24.9% who indicated they did not trust their national parliaments that much, compared with 37.5% and 26.8%, respectively, for elections, according to the World Values Survey. 

Voter Turnout Rates

Youth Voter Turnout for the Most Recent Legislative Elections

Looking more specifically at youth voter turnout for the most recent legislative elections across the region, we found that data was not easily available. Essentially, most source were abstract and did not include any figures, instead, they only indicated whether it was higher or lower than the national average. With that, we relied on scientific public opinion polling while acknowledging a ±2.5% margin of error. The figures indicated below refer to the percentages of young voting-eligible population who indicated they voted in their country’s most recent legislative elections. It is also worth mentioning that there was not any data available for Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, or Syria.

Similar to the national average, Turkey also recorded the highest youth voter turnout with 90.3%, albeit voting is compulsory in Turkey as we previously mentioned. Palestine also ranked second with 67.3% youth voter turnout, followed by Qatar with 62.6%, Iran with 56.9%, and Iraq with 56.3%. Yemen recorded 51.8%, followed by Bahrain with 51.6%, Lebanon with 47.6%, and Sudan with 46%. Jordan recorded 37.9% in youth voter turnout, followed by Tunisia with 36.3%, Libya with 36.1%, and Kuwait with 36%. Further, Algeria recorded 33.8% in youth voter turnout, as many youth-led demonstrations called for boycotts. Morocco recorded 32.9%, Egypt recorded 27.1%, and lastly, UAE recorded 20.9%. Ultimately, we find that the average youth voter turnout across the region is 46.5%, lower than the national average of 53.6%, showing that youth are less likely to cast ballots, mostly for the barriers illustrated earlier, mainly the lack of trust in the electoral processes and their results. 

Youth Voter Turnout Rates

Percentage of Women in Legislative Councils

Next, we outlined the percentages of women in the legislative councils in the MENA region. Looking at North Africa, we find that Algeria currently has the highest percentage of women in their legislative council with 25.8%, followed by 25.4% in Mauritania, and Sudan with 25%. In Tunisia, 22.6% of members of the legislative council are women, compared to 20.5% for Morocco, 15.7% in Egypt, and 15% in Libya. Looking at West Asia, Iraq holds the largest percentage of women in parliament with 25.2%, followed by Turkey with 17.3%, and Jordan with 15.4%, thanks to a quota system. Palestine’s 2006 legislature featured 13.2% women, followed by Syria with 12.4%. Iran and Lebanon have the lowest percentage of women in parliament with 5.9% and 4.7%, respectively. Overall, 16.12% is the average women representation across the MENA region. 

Women Representation

Upcoming Legislative Elections

Looking ahead, part of MENAACTION’s vision is empowering young people in the region to not only be civically active but to also see more youth representation in elected offices. With that, we mapped out the confirmed dates of legislative elections across the region, as seen in the figure below. In October later this year, 2020, Kuwait will hold its legislative elections for the National Assembly. Then, in November, all of Jordan, Egypt, and Libya are scheduled to hold their legislative elections for their respective House of Representatives. In 2021, Qatar will hold its legislative elections in June for its Shura Council, as Morocco will hold its elections in November for the House of Representatives. In 2022, Algeria (National People’s Assembly), Iraq (Council of Representatives), and Lebanon (National Assembly) are set to hold their legislative elections in May, Turkey will hold its legislative elections in June for its Grand National Assembly, and Bahrain is scheduled to hold its elections in November for its Council of Representatives. In 2023, Mauritania will hold its elections in September for its National Assembly, followed by Oman (Shura Council) and UAE (Federal National Council) in October later that year. Finally, in 2024, Iran will hold its Parliamentary elections in February, Syria will hold its elections for the People’s National Assembly in July, and Tunisia will hold its elections for the Assembly of People’s Representatives in October 2024. 

Upcoming Legislative Elections

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