Democratization by Elections? A Mixed Record

Issue Date July 2009
Volume 20
Issue 3
Page Numbers 86-92
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This article summarizes some of the key findings from a forthcoming book, Democratization by Elections: A New Mode of Transition? (Johns Hopkins, 2009, edited by the author), and brings together the following three articles by Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik, Lise Rakner and Nicolas van de Walle, and Ellen Lust. These three essays highlight some of the ways in which repetition of elections can serve both democratization and its reverse: autocratization. We build on Robert Dahl’s insight that “the more the cost of suppression exceeds the costs of toleration, the greater the chance for a competitive regime.” When repetitive electoral processes contribute to changing the costs that rulers must face when either using oppression or (alternatively) accepting more opposition and competition, then elections may be broadly said to serve as causal factors in both democratization and its reverse: “autocratization.” Electoral contests thus can become not only (or even mainly) about winning votes or offices, but about changing the expected costs and benefits of allowing or resisting democratic transition.