Why have some post-Soviet states been more successful at reform than others?

Competitive Authoritarianism


Competitive authoritarian regimes are civilian regimes in which democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents' abuses of state places them at a significant advantage to their opponents. 

  • Competitive because opponent parties use democratic institutions to contest seriously for power, but they are not democratic because the "playing field" is heavily skewed in favour of incumbents 
  • Competition is thus real but unfair 
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Levitksy and Way's definition of democracy

Democracy for the pair is made up of 4 elements: 

1 - Free, fair and competitive elections 

2 - Full adult suffrage 

3 - Broad protections of civil liberties 

4 - The absence of non-elected authorities e.g. militaries and monarchies that limit elected officials' power to govern. 

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Impacts on Democratisation - Political Institution

  • Parties - weak party structures brought down competitive authoritarianism in many countries e.g. Post-communist central and eastern Europe 
  • The media - the restriction of media and free speech foreshadows a consolidating competitive authoritarian state. Free media is necessary for democracy 
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External influences - Western influence as linkage

The influence of the West enables linkage and leverage to play a role in the process of democratisation 

  • Proximity to the West - E.E countries which were geographically closer to the West were able to consolidate their democracies than other post-communist/post-Soviet states. States with ties to the West, such as presidents who had studied in the U.S., democratised faster
  • EU - the promise of EU membership as an incentive in E.E. Where state abuse was evident to international observers, sanctions helped weaken the economy and eventually the regime 
  • NATO - brought down authoritarian regimes in E.E. by eroding public support of incumbents and deteriorating state coercive capacity 
  • Russia - financial support for Belarus and Georgia helped maintained the authoritarian regimes found there. 
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Main Arguments

Where linkage is high, democratisation is likely

  • Linkage refers to the density of ties and cross-border flows between particular countries and the West. 
  • Seen in 6 dimensions - 1) economic; 2) inter-governmental; 3) technocratic; 4) social; 5) information and 6) civil society. 
  • Contributes to democratisation by heightening international reverberation caused by autocratic abuse, creating domestic constituencies for democratic norm-abiding behaviour. 
  • Improves external monitoring via increased information flows. 
  • Heightens the probability that the West will use leverage for democratising ends 
  • Magnifies the domestic impact of external pressure by increasing the likelihood that it will trigger domestic opposition. 
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Main Arguments (2)

Where incumbents possess strong state and party organisation, they are well equipped to contain elite conflict and thwart opposition challenges. 

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Main Arguments (3)

Where leverage is low, even relatively weak incumbents are likely to survive and not encounter external democratisation pressure 

  • Leverage refers to a government's vulnerability to external and democratising pressure. The West has high leverage against authoritarian regime and regimes cannot avoid and will be heavily influenced by any punitive action the West decides to take against them.
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Post-Soviet States: Russia

  • Low linkage and leverage helped Putin to consolidate an authoritarian regime in Russia 
  • Economic recovery and growth made the country immune to Western pressure and other external constraints 
  • Increased state and party capacity helped eliminate regime instability 
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Post-Soviet States: Belarus

  • Consolidation occurred in part due to Russian support, as well as medium leverage and low linkage with the West 
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Post-Soviet States: Armenia

  • Linkage medium and leverage was high, the state's coercive capacity was able to maintain autocratic stability and keep the regime competitive authoritarian 
  • The government repeatedly thwarted opposition and an absence of high linkage meant that the state abuse brought a little response from the West. 
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Post-Soviet States: Ukraine

  • Ukraine democratised despite low linkage 
  • Weak ruling party structure and high leverage led to authoritarian stability 
  • Incumbents were constantly challenged from within, showing "how opposition strength can be endogenous to incumbent weakness." 
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