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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Institutional Legacy and the Stability of New Democracies: The Lasting Effects of Competitive Authoritarianism

  • Author(s): Shirah, Ryan Kenneth
  • Advisor(s): Uhlaner, Carole J
  • et al.

How does experience with nominally democratic electoral institutions shape the politics and stability of new democracies? Since at least the beginning of the Third Wave, new democracies have sprung up in countries with vastly different electoral experiences; many non-democracies adopted impressively diverse arrangements of nominally democratic electoral institutions that operated with varying degrees of competitiveness, affording substantial diversity to the institutional legacies inherited by emerging democracies. I assess the degree to which these different legacies impact the political dynamics of new democracies. Does institutional legacy affect levels of participation in new democracies? Does it help explain why some emerging democracies restrict political rights and civil liberties? And most importantly, does institutional legacy make democracies more (or less) likely to face a return to authoritarian rule? Building upon recent advances in the comparative study of authoritarian electoral institutions, I define competitive institutional legacies based on the extent of electoral competition in the preceding regime and apply an original operationalization of the concept to a dataset of 58 new democracies that emerged between 1975 and 2003. In order to answer the questions put forth above, I combine this data with data on regime durability, government crackdowns, and political participation in young democracies. With this new dataset, I conduct cross-national analyses to examine how these key dependent variables vary across democracies with different institutional legacies. The results indicate that legacies of robust, competitive elections lead to more stable new democracies; all else being equal, experience with competitive elections reduces the chances of a return to non-democratic rule, stems the tide of government restrictions on political rights, and prepares citizens to become active participants in the electoral process.

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