Autocracy by Democratic Rules: The Dynamics of Competitive Authoritarianism in the Post-Cold War Era

Date Presented:

Aug 28, 2002


This paper examines one type of hybrid regime, which we call competitive authoritarianism. Such regimes are authoritarian in that they do not meet standard procedural minimum criteria for democracy. Elections are often unfair and civil liberties are frequently violated. However, they are competitive in that democratic institutions are more facades. Rather, they permit opposition groups to contest seriously for–and sometimes even win–power. The combination of autocratic rule and democratic rules creates an inherent source of tension. Consequently, competitive authoritarian regimes are characterized by periodic crises in which opposition challenges force incumbents to choose between cracking down and losing power. These crises have resulted in a variety of outcomes, ranging from authoritarian entrenchment (Malaysia, Zimbabwe) to incumbent turnover without regime change (Ukraine, Zambia) to democratization (Peru, Serbia).

Paper prepared for Mapping the Great Zone: Clientelism and the Boundary between Democratic and Democratizing conference, Columbia University, April 4–5, 2003. [This is a revised version of a paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA, August 28-31, 2002.]