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Ruling Parties and Durable Authoritarianism
Working Paper

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CDDRL Working Papers, page(s): 34

October 2004

The field of authoritarian subtypes has usefully described the third wave's undercurrent, an international trend toward plebiscitarian politics among persistent dictatorships. Yet classification does not replace explanation and the proliferation of "authoritarianism with adjectives" risks diverting attention from the core question of comparative regime change studies: Under what conditions do authoritarian regimes become democracies? This paper attempts to reorient the study of contemporary authoritarianism with a theory of ruling parties and coalition management. Whether electoral or exclusionary, authoritarian regimes with ruling parties prove more robust than other nondemocratic systems. Statistical analysis of 135 regimes during the period 1975-2000 shows that the presence or absence of multiparty elections, the key feature of the brand new authoritarianism, has no significant impact on regime survival while party institutionalization remains a strong predictor of regime longevity. Process tracing in four cases with limited multiparty politics details the causal relationship between ruling parties and regime persistence. Egypt and Malaysia evince a pattern of durability in which the dominant party resolves intra-elite conflict and prevents the defection of influential leaders. Iran and the Philippines show that the decline of ruling party institutions generates elite polarization and public rifts, a necessary but insufficient condition for successful opposition mobilization and regime change. Contrary to widespread expectations, elections do not destabilize authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes that have neglected the institutions of coalition maintenance destabilize elections.

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