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Careers and Causes: Participation in Myanmar's Legislature

Sun, April 3, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 2nd Floor, Room 205

Abstract

What motivates participation in Myanmar's authoritarian legislature? Recent arguments that authoritarian institutions mitigate risks to regime stability through information and cooptation do not adequately explain variation in engagement by legislators selected into these institutions. In this paper, I evaluate whether and when Myanmar's MPs participate in legislative sessions as a function of policy preferences and career concerns. This participation reveals information to the ruling party about legislators’ preferences, and is thus costly but potentially rewarding: legislators may make career gains if they align with the regime, or may make policy gains by exploiting opportunities for change from the status quo. I test this argument using unique data including legislator characteristics and parliamentary participation from the Open Myanmar Institute. My empirical results indicate a dual process of nonparticipation in legislative sessions: some legislators are "coopted," but others lack sufficiently strong policy preferences or expertise to engage. Beyond assessing legislative behavior amid Myanmar's transition, these findings have implications for understanding dictators' incentives to establish legislatures, as well as the potential for policy reform given Myanmar's current institutions.

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