Legislatures and Policy Making in Authoritarian Regimes

This special issue demonstrates that authoritarian legislatures often matter for their countries’ policy processes in myriad ways, despite the fact that their influence is constrained by the nature of authoritarian politics. In all four of the special issue’s articles, the authors use novel, country-specific data to provide detailed analysis of legislature activity in authoritarian policy processes. First, as illustrated by Noble’s (2018) writing on Russia and Lü et al.’s (2018) writing on China, legislators may shape major policy decisions through their interactions with executive branch officials or their participation in elite coalitions, even when they remain relatively weak and broader outcomes are rarely in doubt. Second, as shown by Noble (2018), Lü et al. (2018), and Truex (2018), policy processes in these institutions are often defined by competing regime actors who hold divergent preferences, and as such, these processes can be messy and inefficient, contrary to popular notions of authoritarian policy making. And third, as demonstrated by Schuler (2018) through his study of Vietnam, legislatures may be permitted to engage in open debate on delegated policy issues, with the goal of holding government officials accountable and shaping the public’s attributions of blame for poor performance.

Understanding how policies are made in these contexts is important in its own right, and the authors’ efforts to open the blackbox of authoritarian policy making reflects a useful contribution of the articles. In this conclusion, we build on the authors’ insights to consider the special issue’s broader implications for the literature on authoritarian rule. We first note how the articles highlight the complexity of policy processes in these political systems, despite the capacity of most autocrats to dominate decision-making in many circumstances. Next, we discuss how the articles demonstrate the utility of legislatures for improving autocrats’ abilities to share power and control the public more effectively, thereby reinforcing the durability of authoritarian regimes. We then consider briefly which legislators and policy issues are more active in these legislatures, before concluding with a discussion of generalizability and suggestions for future research.