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Designing the Rules of the Game: Legislative Processes in Authoritarian Legislatures

  • Author(s): Woo, Ae sil
  • Advisor(s): Conrad, Courtenay R
  • et al.

In the first part of my dissertation, I address the tradeoff that dictators must manage between opposition inclusion and the protection of their own policy. Dictators often invite potential opposition to participate in a legislature to mitigate the threat, but this inclusion may result in the passage of unwanted legislation. Using a series of spatial models that demonstrate variation in dictatorial legislative process and attendant policy loss, I identify the dictator’s strategic legislative design – a set of legislative procedures that simultaneously increases the participation of legislative opposition and protects the dictator’s policy preference. I argue that dictators are increasingly likely to create such a legislature as threat increases and show empirically that as the collective action capacity of the opposition increases, dictators are more likely to create legislative institutions that allow them to best mitigate the threat-policy tradeoff. This paper contributes to the cooptation literature by showing how leaders reengineer institutions to manage the potential costs of opposition inclusivity.

In my second paper, I examine the effects of legislative processes on an opposition’s decision to boycott elections. Autocratic leaders strategically institute legislative rules, but less is studied about the reaction of opposition to such rules. I theorize that legislative rules affect non-regime political parties’ present and future value of holding legislative seats. Despite the increased level of presence in a decision-making process, opposition’s presence does not translate into policy changes due to legislative rules designed to favor the incumbent. In such a case, the value of holding legislative office decreases, and the opposition decide to drop out of an election, instead of investing resources for winning it. I identify legislative rules that rig the process in favor of the leader and empirically find that political parties in autocracies are more likely to engage in a boycott when such legislative rules exist.

In the last part of my dissertation, I investigate the role of a senate as a dictator’s strategic tool to address the costs of co-opting oppositions in a political system. I argue that dictators establish a senate and design institutional rules in a way that opposition inclusion becomes insignificant in the process. In particular, I identify three legislative rules around a senate: 1) appointment rule, 2) joint voting, and 3) majority requirement. These rules of a senate aid dictators to assemble a necessary legislative majority for extending term limits despite high opposition in a lower house. Due to the associated costs of a senate, dictators who do not have other institutions, such as a military or a dominant party, invest resources to use a senate in this strategic way. Therefore, I expect the positive effect of a senate is prevalent in personalist regimes. I empirically show that dictators who establish a senate are more likely to extend term limits via a legislative process than those who do not. This positive effect is more significant in personalist regimes than non-personalist regimes. This paper contributes to our understanding of nominally democratic institutions in a personalist regime, which is becoming the most common regime type in dictatorships.

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