Pathways to Political Liberalization in Dictatorships

38 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2010

Date Written: February 2009


This paper examines all cases of political liberalization in a dictatorship since 1972 to test competing claims about the proximate and underlying causes of those reforms. Contrary to democratization theories that emphasize elite splits as the point of origin for political liberalization in authoritarian regimes, the evidence shows that popular rebellion occurred far more often than public defection of elites. This study also confirms that economic crisis is most often the catalyst for this type of political reform, and that dictators sometimes initiate political liberalization in the absence of rebellion and elite defection as a gambit to improve economic performance.

Keywords: liberalization, democratization, reform, dictatorship, crisis, transaction costs

JEL Classification: D72

Suggested Citation

Ulfelder, Jay, Pathways to Political Liberalization in Dictatorships (February 2009). Available at SSRN: or

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