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Article

Erica Frantz

Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about 40% of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared with democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility, and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics. Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.

Article

Indonesia is a highly revealing case study for pinpointing both the conditions under which militaries in postcolonial societies intervened in political affairs and the patterns that led to their subsequent marginalization from politics. It also demonstrates how militaries could defend some of their political interests even after they were removed from the highest echelons of power. Emboldened by the war for independence (1945–1949), the Indonesian military used divisions, conflicts, and instabilities in the early postindependence polity to push for an institutionalized role in political institutions. While it was granted such a role in 1959, it used a further deterioration in civilian politics in the early 1960s to take power in 1965. Military intervention in politics in Indonesia, then, has been as much the result of civilian weaknesses as of military ambitions, confirming Finer’s theory on the civilian role in military power quests. Military rule in Indonesia weakened first as a consequence of the personalization of the polity built by the leader of the 1965 takeover, General Suharto. After a decade in power, Suharto turned the praetorian regime into a personal autocracy, transforming the military from a political actor into an agent. When Suharto’s regime collapsed in 1998 after being hit by the Asian financial crisis, the military was discredited—allowing civilian rulers to dismantle some of its privileges. But continued divisions among civilian forces mitigated the push for the military’s full depoliticization—once again proving Finer’s paradigm. As post-Suharto presidents settled into the new power arrangements, they concluded that the military was a crucial counterweight against the possible disloyalty of their coalition partners. Thus, under the paradigm of coalitional presidentialism, rulers integrated the military into their regimes and granted it concessions in return. In short, while the post-1998 military is much diminished from its role in predemocratic regimes, it retains sufficient power to protect its core ideological and material interests.

Article

In many African countries, armies played a key public role in the aftermath of independence. For this reason, no study of African politics can overlook the militarization of the state. Postcolonial Madagascar, for example, was ruled for over two decades by personnel from its army. National armies often present themselves as neutral entities that can guarantee a country’s political stability. However, there is no such thing as neutrality, whether in Africa or elsewhere. The best hope for armies to become and remain as politically neutral as possible is the demilitarization of political power. The withdrawal of the military from politics and their subordination to civilian decisions is important but does not suffice to ensure the army’s political neutrality. Such a withdrawal was widely carried out through the third wave of democratization, the historical period during which there was a sustained and significant increase in the proportion of competitive regimes. Democratization processes cannot succeed without efforts toward neutralizing the military, and thus, toward demilitarizing the political society and depoliticizing the army. Post-transition regimes striving for democracy should bring about and preserve a formal separation of power between the political and the civilian spheres. For these regimes to establish a solid mandate, the army and the security apparatus need to be placed under democratic control. In Africa, the disengagement of the military from the public sphere came about with the political transitions of the 1990s. But changes in political regimes over the past decade have challenged the democratization process, as the return of praetorianism (an excessive political influence of the armed forces in the Sahel and Madagascar) testifies. Hence, demilitarizing politics, on the one hand and depoliticizing and reprofessionalizing the army on the other remain essential issues to be addressed.

Article

In a liberal conception of democracy, courts play an important role in facilitating the rule of law by controlling the abidance to rules and by holding the political branches of government accountable. The power of constitutional review is a crucial element for exercising horizontal accountability. Courts across Africa are vested with the power of constitutional review, and, generally speaking, their independence has substantially increased since the beginning of the 1990s—although African courts enjoy overall less independence than the global average for courts’ independence. Within the African region, the level of judicial independence varies widely, between contexts that rarely allow judicial independence and contexts where courts have more power to challenge the government. Furthermore, across the continent, African courts experience undue interference—which frequently takes place informally. Informal interference can occur through the biased appointments of judges, verbal and physical threats, violent attacks, the payment of bribes, or the ouster of sitting judges. Informal networks—held together by ties based on shared educational trajectories, common leisure activities, religion, kinship relations, or political affiliations—are the channels through which such pressure can be transmitted. Yet judges also can actively build informal networks: namely, with the legal community, civil society, and international donors, so as to insulate themselves against undue interference and to increase institutional legitimacy. Research has shown that the agency of judges and courts in signaling impartial decision-making, as well as in reaching out to society, is crucial to constructing legitimacy in the African context. In contrast, the explanatory power of electoral competition as an incentive for power holders to support judicial independence is not straightforward in the context of Africa’s political regimes, where the prospect of losing office is associated with financial, and in some cases even physical, insecurity. However, research on judicial politics in Africa is still only preliminary, because the field requires more comparative studies in order to fully reveal the political repercussions on Africa’s judiciaries as well as to delineate the scope conditions of the prominent theories explaining judicial independence.

Article

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.

Article

Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Chad are some of least researched countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since independence from France in 1960 these four countries have experienced two distinct yet interrelated struggles: the struggle for statehood and the struggle for democracy. Each country has experienced violent conflict between the central authorities in the capitals and security challengers on the peripheries. Prominent examples are the Tuareg uprisings in Niger and Mali, the various rebel insurgencies in Chad, and the conflict between black Africans and Arabs in Mauritania. The emergence of jihadi-Salafi groups in the West African sub-region affects all four countries and poses a particularly strong security challenge to Mali. All these conflicts are unresolved. The liberalization of the political sphere in the late 1980s and early 1990s has led to considerable political diversity across the Sahel. In Niger and Mali meaningful multiparty competition and basic civil liberties have taken root despite many setbacks. Civil society is strong and in the past has successfully mobilized against autocratic tendencies. In Mauritania and Chad, democratic institutions exist on paper as autocratic rulers have managed to stay in office. The national armed forces remain the preeminent political actors. Civil society is not strong enough to achieve political change for the better. Stagnant living conditions, social immobility, the ongoing war against Islamic terrorism, and weak accountability mechanisms remain the most important political challenges for the Sahel.

Article

Many have seen the establishment of civilian and democratic control over the military as a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for the consolidation of a nascent democracy. The establishment of civilian and democratic control over the military in South Korea was a long and, some would argue, uncompleted process. A coup in 1961 led by Park Chung-hee, a major-general, led to the establishment of an authoritarian regime that, while going civilian, was based on the control of the military and the intelligence services. Park was assassinated by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in October 1979; however, the hopes of moving in the direction of democracy were soon squashed when Chun Doo-hwan, and his comrades in arms from the secret Hanahoe (One Mind) club of Korean Military Academy graduates, first took power over the military through an internal coup, and then took control over the government. Under significant internal, and external, pressure Chun Doo-hwan agreed to step down from the presidency in 1987 and allow the writing of a new constitution that led to free elections to the presidency in December 1987. The opposition lost the 1987 election due to its inability to agree upon a united candidate. The winner was Roh Tae-woo, a participant in the 1979–1990 coup, who would during his presidency take important steps when it came to establishing civilian control over the military. However, it was first with the inauguration of the Kim Young-sam in 1993 that the establishment of firm civilian control was achieved. He engaged in a significant reorganization of, and moved against the power of the secret societies within, the army. He also promoted the idea of a politically neutral military. This most likely played a significant role when Kim Dae-jung, the first opposition candidate, won the presidency in December 1997, as the military remained neutral and accepted the outcome of the electoral process. There has since been a strengthening of civilian control over the military in South Korea. However, there are a number of important issues that need to be dealt with in order to ensure full democratic control over the military and the intelligence services. While the military, as an institution, has stayed neutral in politics, military and intelligence resources have been used in attempts at influencing public opinion in the lead-up to elections. In addition, comprehensive oversight by the legislature continues to be weak and the National Security Law remains on the books.

Article

Romania has no tradition in militarism despite its history of authoritarian regimes in 20th century. The process of modernization and democratization that started in the middle of 19th century was interrupted for about half a century by the authoritarian regime of King Carol II (1938), followed by a military dictatorship during World War II, and continued with a Communist dictatorship until 1989. The transition to democracy started in 1990 from a very low level, Ceausescu’s regime being one of the fiercest dictatorial regimes. However, Romania succeeded in building up a functional democracy and market economy with Western assistance that transformed it into a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). One basic conditionality to the admission into NATO and the EU was putting the military under civilian control and building up democratic civil–military relations. Thus, Romania has no history of military involvement in politics. After three decades of transition, Romania implemented a complex mechanism of democratic control of the military. However, issues regarding the incomplete internalization of democratic norms of control of the military, resistance to change through the system of military education, an obsolete national security legislation, and some legacy practices related to rights abuses perpetrated by intelligence services need to be addressed in order to consider Romania a consolidated democracy.

Article

Anita Isaacs and Rachel A. Schwartz

Since the mid-20th century, the Guatemalan military has played a prominent role in the country’s political life. Yet, this was not always the case. During Guatemala’s first century of independence, the armed forces operated largely as the pawn of personalist rulers and oligarchic elites, utilizing coercion to quell labor unrest and impose order in the countryside. Developments during the Cold War era, however, transformed the Guatemalan military into a centralized source of political and economic power and the key protagonist in domestic politics. Following World War II and on the heels of popular uprising, nationalist junior army officers ushered in a series of popular reforms, which included land redistribution. A 1954 CIA-orchestrated coup supported by the Guatemalan oligarchy and reactionary military factions toppled Guatemala’s “Democratic Spring,” reversed the reforms, and paved the way for four decades of hardline military rule. The subsequent rise of a leftist insurgent movement and the outbreak of armed conflict (1960–1996) gave the armed forces a pretext to dramatically expand their power. They consolidated formal political control over the Guatemalan state and pursued a counterinsurgent campaign, which escalated into genocidal violence in the predominantly Mayan indigenous highlands. Pulled between the political protagonism of civil war and the subordination to civilian rule required in liberal democracy, the Guatemalan military struggled to redefine its institutional identity with the end of armed conflict. It lurched reluctantly toward peace and democracy following a split in its ranks between a moderate institutionalist faction and right-wing groups wary of ceding political control. Despite peace accord provisions to reduce the military’s size and budget and to confine its institutional activities to external defense, military officials, particularly those from intelligence, continued to wield extraordinary control in the postwar era. Challenging the strictures of peace and democracy, they have fought to maintain key interests, notably impunity for war crimes, political decision-making influence, and wartime sources of illicit enrichment.

Article

An isolated Spanish frontier settlement with little or no significant mineral wealth, exportable crops, or exploitable indigenous population, colonial Costa Rica had only a rudimentary military. After independence in 1825, the population expanded and diversified as coffee cultivation generated growing wealth. Competing factions of the emergent coffee bourgeoisie fought to control the emerging state using elite-linked military officers to seize ruling power. Modernization and an external threat from Nicaragua and U.S. freebooters at mid-19th century led nation-building leaders to invest heavily in the army. Victorious in the 1856–1857 National War in Nicaragua, the military attained maximum size and power from 1870 to 1920 while oligarchic factions disputed ruling authority via fraudulent elections and coups d’état. Integration into the world economy deepened with banana production after 1890. Subsequent recessions and wars generated domestic economic inequality and a growing labor movement demanding reform. Civilian rule in the early 20th century was interrupted by the military regime of Federico Tinoco (1917–1919), whose atrocities led his civilian successors to almost dismantle the army. When a civil war erupted in 1948 against the divided, Communist-allied reformist government of the 1940s, the rebels defeated the army. The victorious National Liberation junta and new constitution abolished the army in 1949. Costa Rica committed to a police-based security model, nonaggression toward neighbors, and reliance on international alliances. Meanwhile, elites, spared the menace of military disruption, developed a successful electoral democratic regime. This has contributed to seven decades of political stability and allowed Costa Rica to invest successfully in economic development and its citizens’ welfare.

Article

Croatia’s accession to the European Union (EU) meant, in political terms, the recognition of its political and normative-institutional achievements in the establishment of a nation state and the democracy. At the same time, for the vast majority of Croatian citizens EU membership also had a symbolic meaning: a departure from the troubled past and a return to the Western, European cultural circle, which they have always felt they belong to. This feeling is the source for the strong pro-European orientation, which, as state independence was being achieved, and democracy established—as an expression of the strong political will of Croatian citizens for freedom and autonomy—helped achieve those historical and political goals. The EU was perceived as a framework that would enable those goals to be realized, so there was a general political consensus about joining it among all relevant political actors, and the vast majority of Croatian citizens granted their consent. The path to full EU membership was long and arduous, primarily because of the specific conditions that marked the process of establishing a Croatian state and a democratic order. On the one hand, these are endogenous structural and socio-cultural factors: the structure and activity of political actors and the functioning of institutions, which were significantly marked by their authoritarian political and historical legacy. On the other hand, was a war of aggression and a struggle for freedom and independence with long-lasting and difficult social and political consequences. These specific conditions—which none of the other acceding countries had—slowed down the process of democratization and, consequently, hampered the EU accession process. All these reasons are why Croatia had the most comprehensive and longest accession negotiations, including the most extensive body of pre-accession conditions. Although the extent and duration of negotiations, as well as the lack of expected support from the EU (especially during the war) have led to an increase in Euroskepticism and criticism of the EU—and consequently to the low turnout in the referendum for accession—the pro-European orientation remained dominant in Croatia. In general, public support for EU accession in Croatia was based on a set of mutually connected factors: identity-based (cultural affiliation), institutional-political (democracy), and utilitarian (socioeconomic benefits). In the period after joining the EU, due to insufficient preparation, Croatia has relatively slowly used the opportunities (especially economic) provided by EU. Nevertheless, EU membership has accelerated the increase in institutional capacity and better use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). At the same time, the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services, and the opportunities brought by the open EU market, had a double impact: strengthening the economy due to greater orientation toward the EU market, but also slower economic growth, due to structural problems (the lingering power of the state, and regulations to the economy and the market) and increased emigration of the highly educated younger population (chronic labor-force deficit). Nonetheless, through Croatia’s participation in the EU institutions, the real benefits of full membership are becoming increasingly visible, and the sense of integration in the EU’s social, political, cultural, and economic space is growing stronger. At the same time, EU membership affects further improvement of the normative-institutional framework of Croatia.

Article

Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.

Article

Parties are indispensable to the building and maintenance of democracy. This is because parties are purported to promote representation, conflict management, integration, and accountability in new democracies. Second, the failures of parties in helping to build democracy in systems in transition are because they have not performed these functions very well. Third, there are three emerging research agendas to be explored that address the relationship between parties and democratic consolidation: (a) the promotion of institutional innovations that help build institutionalized party systems; (b) the role of ethnic parties in democratization and democratic consolidation; and (c) the role of rebel parties in building peace and democracy after civil wars. Although not entirely exhaustive, these three agendas represent promising avenues of research into the role political parties play in democratization.

Article

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.