The Power of Empty Promises: Quasidemocratic Institutions and Activism in China
Comparative Political Studies, Forthcoming
45 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2014 Last revised: 10 Oct 2015
Date Written: September 24, 2015
In authoritarian regimes, seemingly liberal reforms are often poorly implemented in practice. However, this study argues that even weak quasidemocratic institutions can offer resources to political activists. Formal institutions of participation offer politically anodyne frames for activism, allowing activists to distance themselves from political taboos. Weak institutions also allow activists to engineer institutional failures that in turn fuel legal and media-based campaigns. Evidence comes from the effects of China’s 2008 Open Government Information reform. A national field audit finds that local governments satisfy just 14% of citizen requests for basic information. Yet case studies show how Chinese activists exploited the same institution to extract concessions from government agencies and pursue policy change in disparate issue areas. These findings highlight the importance of looking beyond policy implementation to understand the effects of authoritarian institutions on political accountability.
Keywords: Non-Democratic Regimes, Political Institutions, Contentious Politics, China
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