Liberalizing Electoral Outcomes (Excerpts; Part 1)

A reader/netizen notified me about this journal article, on when and why elections in competitive authoritarian regimes “usher in significant political liberalization.”

You can download the original article/PDF here, by academic professors Marc Morjé Howard and Philip G. Roessler.

Singapore is mentioned a couple of times in the PDF, so I leave it to readers to decide how much of this content is applicable and relevant to Singapore’s political situation.

Simplified Version: Part 1 | Part 2

Excerpts Version: Part 1 (this post) | Part 2

Original PDF: Link

Part 1 refers to Singapore’s political situation. Part 2 offers a solution.

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Excerpts from “Liberalizing Electoral Outcomes in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes”
Marc Morjé Howard and Philip G. Roessler


1) ABSTRACT/SUMMARY: In the wake of the third wave of democratization, competitive authoritarianism has emerged as a prominent regime type. These regimes feature regular, competitive elections between a government and an opposition, but the incumbent leader or party typically resorts to coercion, intimidation, and fraud to attempt to ensure electoral victory. Despite the incumbent’s reliance on unfair practices to stay in power, such elections occasionally result in what we call a “liberalizing electoral outcome” (LEO), which often leads to a new government that is considerably less authoritarian than its predecessor. Our findings highlight in particular the importance of the choices made by opposition elites to form a strategic coalition for the purpose of mounting a credible challenge to the ruling party or candidate in national elections.

2) . . .recalcitrant authoritarian leaders discovered ways to acquiesce to internal and external demands for democratization while still maintaining their hold on power. They legalized opposition parties and permitted competitive elections, yet manipulated the process to ensure their political survival. As a result, “hybrid regimes” (Karl 1995), which combine democratic procedures with autocratic practices, emerged as the most widespread political system in the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

3) A flourishing body of literature has recognized the prevalence of hybrid regimes, with scholars coining new descriptive labels, such as “competitive authoritarianism” (Levitsky and Way 2002), “ electoral authoritarianism” (Diamond 2002; Schedler 2002), and “semi-authoritarianism” (Ottaway 2003), to conceptualize and study them. Not only are these regimes viewed as neither completely authoritarian nor democratic, they are most likely not “in transition” from one to the other (Carothers 2002). Rather, they constitute a “gray zone” (Carothers 2002, 9) or a “foggy zone” (Schedler 2002, 37), consisting of relatively established institutional forms that are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

4) “Competitive authoritarian” regimes. The characteristics of these systems include regularly held elections, in which the dominant party and rulers use coercive and unfair means to disadvantage the opposition and to ensure their own electoral success.

5) Even though these elections should not be characterized as “transitions to democracy,” they do represent what we call “liberalizing electoral outcomes,” which provide at least a chance for a new beginning in each of these countries. In fact, many of them liberalize to the point that they can eventually be considered electoral democracies, rather than competitive authoritarian regimes

6) We disaggregate political regimes into five types based on the sets of rules adopted to select authoritative national leaders:

  • first, whether selection is through national elections or through lineage, party decree, or military orders;
  • second, if there are national elections for an executive, whether the elections are competitive or not;
  • third, whether the elections are free and fair or fraudulent;
  • and finally whether the regime is based on the rule of law and “political and civic pluralism,” or whether the rights and liberties of some individual and groups are still violated (Diamond 1999, 8–13)

NOTE: Figure 1 below shows the “five types” of political regimes, on the right.


7) Democracy involves much more than just elections. Robust civil society, effective and independent legislatures and judiciaries, and a civilianized military are just three of the many factors that are necessary for a consolidated democracy (Linz and Stepan 1996). At the same time, however, democracy cannot be less than free and fair elections. Until a country’s selection of national leaders occurs consistently through a public, competitive, and free and fair process, the deepening of democracy will remain elusive

8) Hegemonic authoritarian regimes do hold regular elections as part of their system of governance, but in addition to widespread violations of political, civil, and human rights, the elections are not actually competitive. Because no other party, except the ruling one, is allowed to effectively compete (i.e. the opposition is completely shut out from access to state-owned media coverage, banned from holding political rallies, or forced into exile or in jail), the dominant candidate or party wins overwhelmingly, leading to a de facto one-party state.

9) . . .Hegemonic authoritarian regimes (e.g., Zambia in 1996 and Singapore in 2001). . .

NOTE: Table 1 below lists Singapore under the “No Liberalizing Electoral Outcome Electoral Outcome” section.


Reference: “Liberalizing Electoral Outcomes in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes,” by Marc Morjé Howard and Philip G. Roessler (2006)

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Simplified Version: Part 1 | Part 2

Excerpts Version: Part 1 (this post) | Part 2

Original PDF: Link

Part 1 refers to Singapore’s political situation. Part 2 offers a solution.


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