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No democracy without bureaucracy ? The role of administrative institutions in democratic consolidation

Research project
Inactive research
Project size
Project period
2012 - 2017
Project owner
Department of Political Science

Short description

Why do some countries suffer more democratic breakdowns than others? In this research project we look at factor in the democratization literature: the state infrastructure or the legacy of the administrative tradition. We argue that democracy will last longer in countries whose state infrastructure has prevented governments from choosing most public employees working for them (i.e. bureaucratic state infrastructure) than in countries whose governments have traditionally been allowed to select most public employees at will (i.e. patronage state infrastructure). The mechanism is as follows: the more people whose professional careers depend directly upon which party wins the elections, the higher the stakes of the ruling party to survive in office – what, in turn, fosters auto-coups or opposition’s preemptive military coups or rebellions.

PURPOSE OF THE PROJECT: Historical and contemporary developments suggest that democratization is not a linear and predictable process. Once a country has become a democracy we cannot take for granted the consolidation of democratic institutions and norms, nor preclude the possibility of a democratic breakdown in the future (Schedler 2001; Ulfelder 2010).

The objective of the proposed project is to examine why some countries manage to consolidate and build stable democracies, where democracy becomes the only game in town (Linz and Stepan 1996:14), while others succumb to a pattern of political instability and subversion of the democratic process.

How can we understand, for example, that some Asian countries (e.g. Korea) with a strong authoritarian tradition today have consolidated liberal democracies much more stable than those in some Latin American countries (e.g. Bolivia) with almost two centuries of democratic tradition?

The proposed project challenges the explanations advanced in the extensive literature on democratic consolidation. To date, research on democratic consolidation has focused heavily on formal and informal political institutions at the input side of the political process: that is, the institutions linking voters’ demands to policy decisions (e.g. which electoral system or which form or government contribute most to consolidation). We find these explanations unsatisfactory. In order to deepen the understanding of democratic consolidation we need to consider factors at the output side of the political system: that is, the design of institutions responsible for the implementation of policy decisions. These institutional arrangements structure the actual distribution and provision of goods and services to a populous, and therefore determine the extent to which citizens’ needs are served with efficiency and impartiality. We hypothesize that institutions at the output side of the political system constitute an important incentive structure not only for public employees and civil servants, but also for citizens’ political actions as well as for politicians. In the proposed project, the institutional structure of output institutions is thus hypothesized to be of crucial importance for whether policy decisions will be implemented in a general and impartial way (Rothstein and Teorell 2008) for all citizens and, as a result, decrease the risk of disruptive and anti-systemic actions against democratic institutions.