Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Institutions in new democracies: Variations in African political party systems
by Riedl, Rachel Beatty, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2008, 351; 3338706
Abstract (Summary)

The maturation of ‘third wave’ democracies across the globe provokes new salient questions about how the characteristics of formal democratic institutions, such as political party systems, relate to critical outcomes in political economy, democratic endurance and peace studies. Understanding how political parties operate is central because they serve to mediate interests, mobilize the citizenry and provide a link between rulers and the masses. This project analyzes a fundamental question in the study of institutional crafting in the developing world: why have political party systems developed across new democracies with such diverse forms and functions? In so far as Africa is home to nearly two dozen enduring multiparty democracies combining high degrees of ethnic heterogeneity, low economic development, and weak state capacity, it provides a ripe testing ground for theories of democratization and democratic endurance. My dissertation presents a theoretical model and empirical analysis that seeks to explain how new party systems in Africa have developed and why they exhibit particular, enduring and extremely diverse characteristics. The argument places central explanatory emphasis on the power of authoritarian incumbents in the initial stages of democratic opening. Empirically, I combine four detailed case studies in Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and Benin with cross-national statistical analysis to show that the power of the authoritarian incumbent to control the transition agenda and create the formal rules of competition in its favor has far-reaching and unintended consequences for the development of the party system.

The two-step model of party system institutionalization builds from the premise that all political actors seek access to the state and assumes that they try to maximize their own likelihood of being in power while limiting other challengers. The first step details modes of authoritarian power accumulation. In most African authoritarian regimes, incumbents seek legitimation and regime consolidation through essentially one of two routes: ‘Incorporation ’ of traditional local authorities, or an attempt to ‘ modernize’ and neutralize existing local powerbrokers to replace them with state-sponsored organizations. In times of contestation, such as democratization, the incumbent party is beholden to their earlier legitimizing strategies. Incumbents want to control the transition process and set the rules of the new multiparty system in their favor, but need the support of local elites and their followers in order to do so. At this moment, authoritarian incumbent power is determined by the degree of support of local elites, who can either mobilize their networks to support the incumbent or defect to the opposition. Strategic decisions, first on the part of the incumbent party and second by local elites, determine who shapes the rules of the game for the multiparty system. The rule-making process is, therefore, endogenous to the position and power of the players involved in the transition.

The second step details the electoral marketplace and isomorphic competitive pressures that sustain over time the particular form of the party system that emerges from the democratic transition. Eligibility rules, organizational imperatives, and strategic inter-party alignments drive parties to resemble each other within the competitive national system. Where authoritarian incumbents are strong, they are able to tightly control the transition, restrict entry of new challengers and force opposition to coalesce and model the incumbent in order to compete. Paradoxically, these competitive pressures force organizational emulation, aggregation into fewer effective parties, and polarization into discrete ‘incumbent’ and ‘opposition’ camps, thereby contributing to higher party system institutionalization in the democratic era. Where authoritarian incumbents are weak, they lose control of the transition agenda, and new players contribute in uncoordinated ways to press for greater reforms and more open participation. New parties seek distinct and original models of organization and differentiate themselves from the past rather than other new parties, and the party system is open to reinvention and party proliferation, which results in lower party system institutionalization.

Based on a combination of census and survey data, cross-national macroeconomic and electoral data, archival research, focus group discussions and over 260 original individual interviews conducted in three regions in each of four countries, I show that rival explanations of levels of economic development, ethnic demographics and electoral system institutional design have limited predictive power in explaining the variation in party system institutionalization in African democracies. I use two sequential measures of authoritarian incumbent power: (1) interview data of local elite calculations prior to democratization; and (2) voting data from the founding elections. These measures of authoritarian incumbent power provide sub-national comparisons in paired districts according to economic and ethnic criteria. The data highlight two key findings. First, they support the central claim of the study that historical legacies of authoritarian power accumulation strategies shape the nature of formal democratic institutions. Secondly, these data suggest that the competitive electoral marketplace is an important factor in explaining the characteristics of institutions and their effects. African political party systems demonstrate that either high or low party system institutionalization can endure over time according to the logic of the competitive system. Using an expanded data set I compare the findings suggested by the African cases to party systems in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia and find support for the claim that authoritarian power on the eve of democratic transition is a central factor shaping the nature of the new multiparty system. This research suggests that social networks of neo-patrimonialism have shaped the authoritarian legacies, democratic transition context, and the formation of the modern multiparty system in ways that can provide the foundation for democratic persistence, stability and peace in the developing world.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lieberman, Evan
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 69/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African history, Political science, Organizational behavior
Keywords: Africa, Benin, Democracy, Ghana, Institutional isomorphism, Local elite, New democracies, Political parties, Senegal, Zambia
Publication Number: 3338706
ISBN: 978-0-549-93347-2
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