Dr Ishiguru, Visiting Research Fellow at The Global Studies Center
Dr. Hirotake Ishiguro, Visiting Research Fellow at The Global Studies Center at GUST writes about his research at GUST. Dr. Hirotake is Associate Senior Research Fellow of Middle Eastern Studies Group at Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO) in Japan, specializing in Comparative Politics.
My current research topic is “Social Accountability and Consensus-Building in the Era of Reforms: The Dynamics of Informal Decision-Making in the GCC countries.” This research aims to examine how the GCC countries manage to maintain stability in regime while implementing reform policies, focusing on the aspect of accountability and consensus-building in the decision-making process.
The GCC countries have been, more than ever, urged to implement reforms to break away from being rentier states, especially after the drop in oil prices in 2014. They avoided democratization; however, they implemented certain measures that were not public friendly, such as subsidy cuts, public fee hikes, and taxation. These policies evidently hurt citizens, who filed public complaints and now need a convincing account of the government’s reform policies. In this matter, social accountability and consensus-building between citizens and the government are key factors for reform policy success and political stability in the GCC countries.
In this regard, I focus on the interaction between the formal and informal institutions in the decision-making process, and examine how the mechanism of the informal decision-making process positively or negatively affects government accountability in the GCC countries, where participatory governance has not been sufficiently institutionalized. In this study, the informal decision-making process refers to the negotiations and coordination that take place through informal institutions, such as a private assembly and personal and intergroup networks, which are separate from formal institutions, such as elections and parliamentary politics, that have been institutionalized by the constitution and laws. I pay attention to the role of “diwaniya” or “majlis,” i.e., a private assembly that includes some aspects of the public sphere and contributes to accountability and consensus-building between citizens and the government, by comparative analysis.
In the case of Kuwait, I have previously examined the mechanism of how horizontal accountability of formal institutions can operate in the reform policy-making and budgeting process, based on an analysis of elections, parliamentary politics, and the involvement of the judiciary in politics using materials such as the minutes of parliament and councils, official gazette, official statements from policy makers, and press reports. The analysis indicated that although negotiations and coordination of interests between policy makers and social groups occur on a one-to-one basis within informal institutions, the details are potentially exposed to the public through the decision-making process within formal institutions. The government evidently needs to make more efforts to convince its opponents and coordinate with them on matters of common interest. In addition, it can be assumed that if the details of agreements between the government and certain social groups are recognized as unfair or being favorable toward those groups, opponents of the government can easily increase their harsh criticism based on suspicion and distrust of the government in the formal decision-making process. Such criticisms can affect the accountability of government policies to a great extent, cause policy failures, and damage government accountability.
To verify the above-mentioned assumption, this study will apply Tsebelis’ veto players theory in an attempt to describe the dynamics of the decision-making process, and re-examine the mechanism of accountability of formal institutions in relation to the informal ones. For this purpose, I conduct a qualitative survey involving participatory observation and interviews, and contrast the data thus obtained with the outcomes of previous research. In addition, I will compare the data with other qualitative data related to the evaluation of accountability in existing social and expert surveys, including both positive and negative evaluations, and re-examine the function and role of the informal decision-making process in terms of each measured item.
The research outcome of this study is expected to have both practical and academic implications. For the practical aspect, this study will provide certain clues on how to execute reform policies that may be harsh on citizens, while maintaining regime stability. For the academic aspect, this study will provide a theoretical comparison of GCC countries in terms of how the degree of democratization determines the conditions of social accountability.