Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Shared Plans or Shared Power? Rule of Law Paths in New Democracies
by Russell, Kevin Daniel, Ph.D., Yale University, 2015, 425; 10013026
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation I develop a theory of how the distribution of power across organized interest groups explains why some democratic transitions deliver governments that abide by constitutions, while others do not. Empirically, I consider the disadvantageous case where "census" voting – situations where a social identity seems to determine who votes for whom – diminishes an incumbent party's anticipation of electoral competition (what I call "democratic accountability") and thus the likelihood of losing an election due to abuses of power. I argue that under these conditions, the most important forces pushing a newly democratic country toward rule of law are powerful, self-interested organizations, especially in business and labor. The influence of such organized interest groups is a double-edged sword though: even as such organizations can promote constitutional compliance, they eventually also work to undermine it.

My theory begins from general microfoundations about how three independent variables (the preferences and distribution of power of organized interests and democratic accountability) bear on a new ruling party's constitutional compliance (which determines a general level of "rule of law" over time). Democratic accountability and organized interests that prefer rules to "deal-making" with the government (for example, due to the nature of the country's political economy) both naturally enhance rule of law. However, the effect of a concentration of power among organized interest groups is conditional on the other two independent variables. Where those other factors are weak, powerful business and labor organizations can support at least the institutions designed to protect their productive pursuits and members. When the other two factors already support constitutional compliance, organized interests do not have to carry that burden and only their destructive edge – eliciting special favor from government – is on display.

My empirical work focuses on the challenging case where democratic accountability is low. First I explore the effect of a concentration of organized interests under these conditions. I then examine the process by which democratic accountability might endogenously increase in the long term.

My research design explores variation across institutions and time within South Africa and between South Africa and Iraq at a country level. First, within South Africa, a case study of the Competition Tribunal shows how powerful business conglomerates (that developed before the transition) and the ruling ANC first backed the new institution, which then gained enough independent credibility to later constrain them. In contrast, a case study of the "Arms Deal" scandal – a large military purchase in 1999 widely seen as corrupt – demonstrates how organized interests pay less attention to public oversight bodies (and even benefit from their subversion), such that the ruling party will only defer to oversight bodies if the public demands it. Because the ANC faced no electoral threat, there was little cost to the party when it changed the composition and purpose of an important parliamentary committee.

In addition to explaining variation across institutions in South Africa, I compare South Africa to Iraq. Despite many differences between the countries and their transitions, both countries had weak democratic accountability due to ethnic census elections after transition. Under these conditions, I show how a concentration of organized interests in South Africa but not in Iraq led to stronger rule of law in South Africa as the theory predicts. I associate the differing rule of law outcomes with two different more general paradigms. South Africa, even with a mixed institutional record, reflects a higher "plan-sharing"1 paradigm: where powerful groups observe other actors using institutions out of self-interest, it diminishes their need to monitor, bargain, and coerce other actors to ensure predictable official behavior. In contrast, even under propitious moments of low violence and strong national identity in Iraq in 2008-2010, Iraqis and American advisors alike never emerged from a "power-sharing" paradigm: without any powerful actors with productive interests outside of the state, the very defmition of success remained a bargain over power-sharing rather than a set of rules to make bargaining unnecessary. As a result, when the American withdrawal and exogenous regional factors changed the anticipated balance of power, the bargain unraveled and the country descended back into civil war.

Finally, I return to the case of South Africa to understand the conditions under which democratic accountability might strengthen over time, correcting for the weakness of public oversight. Through two experimental tests, I show that voters are turning against the ANC due to the party's abuses, but they are reluctant to support a white party like the DA. I conclude that democratic accountability is increasing as racial census elections incrementally give way to competition.

1 This idea comes from Shapiro (2011).

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sambanis, Nicholas
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 77/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Constitutional Development, Democracy, Rule of Law
Publication Number: 10013026
ISBN: 978-1-339-47832-6
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