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Between Regimes: Institutional Design in Transitional Groups

  • Author(s): Michel, Katherine Eleanor
  • Advisor(s): Fish, M. Steven;
  • Wittenberg, Jason
  • et al.

This dissertation proposes a new framework from which to study political regime transitions, arguing from a basis in counterfactual reasoning that it is necessary to shift the focus from ex-post coding based on transition outcomes to ex-ante coding of cases with the potential for regime transition. Straddling the literatures on transitions, democratization, authoritarianism, founding elections, and power-sharing, I investigate the inner workings of a rarely studied transitional period, assessing the types of institutions that countries form during the foundational, yet often chaotic, moments of a regime transition.

I systematically characterize a number of paths that countries embark on in the period between regimes and, in so doing, identify a new unit of analysis that I term “transitional groups”: unelected, interim groups formed during potential regime transitions with the stated intent of holding elections and transferring power to a popularly legitimate government. I assemble a novel dataset that describes the existence of transitional groups over the period 1989 to 2010.

I then conduct statistical analysis on this data to analyze how transitional groups affect the extent and direction of regime change. I argue that, while the introduction of transitional groups can often accelerate the pace of democratization, in some circumstances—particularly, when power is either too consolidated in a few actors or too dispersed among many—the introduction of transitional groups can actually make democratization harder. My dissertation provides insights into transitional or foundational events and highlights how formalized transitional groups vary tremendously across space and time.

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