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Institutional Explanations of Self-Inflicted Authoritarian Reversal

Fri, September 1, 4:00 to 4:30pm, Hilton Union Square, Grand Ballroom


The literature has repeatedly suggested that parliamentary democracies tend to last longer in a large number cross-national studies (Linz, 1994; Przeworski et al., 2000; Cheibub, 2007; Svolik, 2008; Kapstein and Converse, 2008). However, the explanations provided for such an observation often suffer a lack of theoretical subtlety because they have not distinguished the two very different types of democratic breakdowns, those in which the governing party was undermined or overthrown and those in which the governing party was strengthened. It is certainly hard for any single theory of democratic breakdown to count for these two opposite scenarios. When running empirical tests, the pooling of the two types of breakdowns also necessarily drives down the statistical significance because of the vague connection between the independent and dependent variables.
In order to establish a more refined relationship between institutional features and the durability of democracy, this paper will focus on only one type of breakdowns, namely those that are self-inflicted by the governing parties to remove democratic constraint and strengthen themselves. This kind of breakdowns are especially interesting because they directly reflect the preference of an elected government and the degree to which it is accountable. I found that among the 22 cases of such breakdowns that happened in the Post-War era around the world, 17 happened under a strong presidency and 4 happened under a parliamentary system whose governing party had more than 80% of the seats in the legislature. Greece in 1949 was the only parliamentary system with a modest majority (58% of the seats) to experience such a breakdown. The pattern is strong enough for us to believe that a threat of no-confidence vote is a highly effective mechanism to deter self-inflicted authoritarian reversals.
I will also offer a quantitative theory on how the no-confidence vote works even when legislative majority has a collective interest in abusing power. Inspired by the Condorcet Jury Theorem, I show that the probability of collective power abuse is a decreasing function of the size of the collective body and the size of the majority party within that body.