The Origins of Dominant Parties: A Cross-National Investigation
Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 7 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2010
Dominant parties are known to extend the longevity of authoritarian rule. If this is so, why do leaders and elites in many non-democratic regimes refrain from investing in dominant parties? This paper examines why dominant parties emerge in some non-democracies, but not in others. Where existing accounts of institutional emergence in non-democratic regimes focus mostly on the incentives for authoritarian leaders to build parties, this paper shifts the focus of analysis to elites and their incentives to commit to a nascent dominant party. The novelty of this approach is to frame the dilemma as a mutual commitment problem between two sides: a state leader and other elites. Dominant parties are more likely to emerge, I argue, when other elites hold enough independent political resources (relative to the ruler’s supply of political resources) that coopting them is necessary, but not so many autonomous resources that they themselves are unwilling to commit to the dominant party. Using original data on the emergence of all dominant parties in authoritarian regimes from 1946-2008, I find evidence for this proposition. Dominant parties are least likely to emerge when rulers are very strong relative to elites or when elites are very strong relative to rulers. All else being equal, they are most likely to emerge when the balance of resources between leaders and other elites is relatively balanced. These findings enrich our understanding of why some countries democratize, but others do not.
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