"The Surprising Instability of Competitive Authoritarianism" (Journal of Democracy, Oct. 2018)
After many countries that had embarked upon transitions in the 1980s and 1990s failed to become consolidated democracies, political scientists highlighted the widespread emergence of hybrid regimes, which combine authoritarian and democratic features. Scholars argued such regimes were stable, with some positing that quasi-democratic institutions actually strengthened authoritarianism. But an examination of competitive authoritarianism (CA)—the most prominent of these hybrid types—suggests instability is the norm. Of 35 regimes identified as having been CA between 1990 and 1995, most have either democratized or been replaced by new autocracies. Furthermore, quasi-democratic institutions often contributed to CA’s breakdown. In short, hybrid regimes have not become a new form of stable nondemocratic rule.
"Democratic Institutions, Corruption, and Authoritarian Durability" (under review)
A growing literature in the study of authoritarianism argues that institutions commonly associated with democratic politics, like elections, often serve to strengthen nondemocratic regimes. One key mechanism proposed by the literature is that quasi-democratic institutions facilitate patronage distribution, buying the autocrat support. I argue, however, that the more substantial effect of these institutions is to drive autocrats to rely heavily on corruption to stay in power, which is one factor that undermines durability. Corruption can weaken the bureaucracy’s responsiveness, undercut economic growth or stability, and reduce regime legitimacy by inciting public anger. This essay examines four cases: authoritarian regimes in Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. The magnitude of the problem of corruption for autocrats, along with other risks underappreciated by this literature, leads me to conclude that quasi-democratic institutions generally create major problems for authoritarian regimes.