Paul D'Anieri, Understanding Ukrainian Politics: Power, Politics, and Institutional Design, 2007.


Ukraine in Comparative Perspective
Electoral Authoritarianism in the Former Soviet Union and Beyond

The underlying model of politics that has developed in Ukraine since 1991, labeled "electoral authoritarianism" in this book, is not unique to Ukraine. We see analogues to this model in countries around the world as well. Only the details differ, due to differing historical, cultural, demographic, and geographic situations. Recognizing that Ukraine's problems are not unique is essential both to understanding the causes of Ukraine's problems and prescribing solutions.

Because we see electoral authoritarianism throughout the former Soviet Union, we cannot conclude that the sources of Ukraine's problems lie in some factor unique to Ukraine. Neither Ukraine's history under different empires nor its present cleavage structure can account for a result that appears in other societies lacking the same factors. Moreover, to the extent that we see electoral authoritarianism in societies that did not experience Soviet-style communism, we cannot see this form of politics as rooted simply in the legacy of the Soviet experience. Certainly that experience created the preconditions, but other, noncommunist experiences can apparently create the same conditions.

By recognizing similar forms of electoral authoritarianism across societies, and by seeing strong executives in very different countries adopt the same tactics to maintain and expand their control, we are able to see the actions taken by the Kuchma government more as purposeful responses that any ambitious leader might take and less as the tools of a singularly voracious and corrupt administration, which is how Kuchma and his regime are sometimes portrayed. Whether he was voracious and corrupt is debatable, but it cannot reasonably be argued that he is unique.

This leads to an important warning about Ukraine's post-Kuchma future: we should not assume that politics after Kuchma will automatically be different. If leaders in countries very different from Ukraine adopt the same tactics, there is little reason to assume that a new leader in Ukraine cannot adopt the same tactics. It is therefore naive to believe that Kuchma's departure will put Ukraine on a direct course toward liberal democracy. That is only one possibility.

This chapter will first summarize a general model of electoral authoritarianism, building on the characteristics of strong executive control elaborated in Chapter Nine. Second, it will apply this general model to four of the post-Soviet cases, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. These four countries are vastly different in many ways (language, religion, size, wealth, geography) and yet they have developed political systems strongly resembling Kuchma's Ukraine. Next, in less detail, it will consider how this model fits cases outside the former Soviet Union. In very different contexts, executives adopt similar policies to augment their rule, and similar problems result. Finally, the chapter seeks some preliminary conclusions about the broader sources of electoral authoritarianism, and considers the differences as well as the similarities in the cases considered.

A General Model of Electoral Authoritarianism

Chapter Two sought to distinguish "electoral authoritarianism" from the more traditional variant by pointing out that in electoral authoritarianism, the regime is maintained in power primarily because it builds legitimacy through elections, while traditional authoritarian regimes maintained power primarily through ideology, coercion, and intimidation.1 While some of the cases discussed below may lead us to question how distinct those two categories are, the central point remains that all of these regimes remain committed to "democratic" structures and practices. At the same time, however, they seek to avoid most of the important implications of democratic governance. This leads them to a set of tactics that were elaborated in Chapter Nine:

  1. Selective law enforcement;
  2. Selective administration of regulations;
  3. Control over the media;
  4. Control over the election process;
  5. Control over patronage;
  6. Control over the economy. As emphasized in the study of the Ukrainian case, these tactics arise within a particular political and institutional context, which includes:
  7. A constitution giving extensive legislative power to the executive;
  8. A weak and fragmented parliament;
  9. A weak judicial branch (or rather the absence of a judicial branch distinct from the executive branch).
These nine basic characteristics can be seen through much of the former Soviet Union, and beyond.

Table 10.1

Freedom House 2004 New Democracy Score and Presidential Powers

Country Democracya Presidential powersb
Armenia 5.00 13.5
Azerbaijan 5.63 no data
Belarus 6.54 15
Estonia 1.92 4.5
Georgia 4.83 no data
Kazakhstan 6.25 15.5
Kyrgyzstan 5.67 15.5
Latvia 2.17 4.75
Lithuania 2.13 12
Moldova 4.88 13
Russia 5.25 18
Tajikistan 5.71 13
Turkmenistan 6.88 18.5
Ukraine (to 2006) 4.88 15
Uzbekistan 6.46 17


a Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2004, nattransit.htm, accessed April 29, 2005.

b The score for presidential powers is from Timothy Frye, "A Politics of Institutional Choice: Post-Communist Presidencies," Comparative Political Studies 30, no. 5 (October 1997), 547. The score is simply a count of formal presidential powers, such as the ability to dissolve parliament, to chair the National Security Council, and so on (out of a total possible maximum of twenty-seven). The score does not ascribe different weights to different powers that may in fact be more important, so it must be taken as a rough gauge rather than as a precise measurement. For the sake of comparison, the Czech Republic scored 4.75, Hungary scored 7.25, Poland scored 13, and Slovenia scored 5.5.

Summarizing the State of Affairs in the Former Soviet Union

Table 10.1 tabulates the "New Democracy" scores for all of the post-Soviet states, as ranked by Freedom House from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free), as well as Timothy Frye's scores for the extent of presidential power in each state.

The countries can be separated into three groups. The first group is the democracies, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These have scores comparable with those of established Western democracies, and the worst democracy score in this group, Latvia's 2.17, is more than two points better than the best in the next group (4.88 for Ukraine and Moldova). At the opposite end are the countries that are authoritarian in the traditional sense of the term, including Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The countries in between are what Carothers calls the "grey zone." Their democracy scores range from 4.88 for Ukraine and Moldova to Kazakhstan's 6.25.2 These countries all have some professed commitment to democratic procedures and some credible claim to partly fair elections. Yet their elections are not fully fair, their economies are not fully free, and civil liberties remain poorly defended. We cannot conclude on this basis that all of these are characterized by electoral authoritarianism. The examination of four cases will show that this model is not unique to Ukraine.


In Russia, the governments first of Boris Yeltsin and then of Vladimir Putin have used many of the same tactics used by Kuchma's government in Ukraine. In fact, the tactics developed by Yeltsin's advisers for the 1996 Russian presidential election were brought to Ukraine for use in the 1999 presidential elections. They were subsequently developed further and used by Putin in 2003 and Yanukovych in 2004.

A very high level of constitutional authority for the president was established in December 1993, when Yeltsin successfully put a new constitution to a referendum. However, that new constitution did not establish executive power, but rather provided constitutional legitimacy for power that had been decisively seized in September of that year, when Yeltsin unilaterally (and unconstitutionally) dissolved the Supreme Soviet.

This episode is instructive because it showed that, even within a state labeled as a democracy, the Weberian question of who controls the means of violence is crucial. In the Ukrainian case, a direct resort to arms has not occurred, and when it seemed possible, in December 2004, it appeared that the executive would lose. In the Russian case, the leftist opposition in the Supreme Soviet sought to test this question when they refused to leave the Russian White House and declared themselves Yeltsin's successors. Had the military sided with the parliament, we would have a very different Russia today. It was this military victory that established Yeltsin's de facto power in the clearest way. The constitutional referendum was hardly a ringing endorsement, with the constitution being approved by a narrow majority in a vote with credible allegations of fraud and manipulation.

The 1993 Russian constitution was drafted neither by a constitutional convention nor by a group including representatives of parliament, but rather by a group appointed directly by Yeltsin.3 The process reflected his total victory over the parliament, and in turn was reflected in the new distribution of powers. As Table 10.1 indicates, the result was a presidency as powerful in legal terms as any in the former Soviet Union, surpassing even Uzbekistan and being barely eclipsed only by Turkmenistan. Thus, M. Steven Fish labels the Russian system "superpresidential."4 Under the 1993 constitution, the Russian president can dissolve the parliament if it rejects the president's nominee for prime minister three times. This gives the parliament a very strong disincentive to actively vet candidates for that post. Similarly, if the Duma votes no confidence in the government twice within three months, the president can dissolve the Duma and call new elections. Again, the disincentives for Duma activism are strong.5

A second characteristic of Russian politics has been the weakness of the parliament.6 Russia's parliament is bicameral, with an upper chamber consisting of the heads of Russia's regions, along with a lower house elected according to a mixed system similar to that used in Ukraine in 1998 and 2002. The major difference is that Ukraine used a 4 percent threshold and Russia uses a 5 percent threshold. Unlike Ukraine, in recent years Russia has had a relatively steady majority and little difficult passing legislation.

However, the parliamentary majority in Russia has existed only at the sufferance of the executive, and is largely seen as a "rubber stamp" of President Putin's proposals. Thus, Joel Ostrow characterizes the Duma as "complete chaos, .under control."7 Ironically, while some parties have been stable (but weak), the "party of power" has gone through a series of metamorphoses of name and organization, beginning with Russia's Choice in 1993, through Our Home Is Russia, and most recently, the Unified Russia bloc.8 These represent successive attempts by the executive branch to create a structure that could channel the "administrative resources" of the executive branch into control of parliament. That this has succeeded in Russia is not a sign that the parliament is able to be more independent of the executive, but, on the contrary, a sign that the executive has had even greater success in controlling the legislature. The benefits are stability and the easy passage of legislation. The drawback has been that Putin's power in Russia is much more difficult to challenge than was Kuchma's in Ukraine. The parliamentary rubber stamp allows Putin to further create democratic legitimacy for policies that are developed solely by the executive. In sum, Russia's parliament cannot today be described as fragmented, but it is very weak. Indeed, it has become less fragmented only because its weakness has allowed the president to forge a majority that is controlled by him.

Russia's judicial system is separated from the executive branch on paper, but often finds it difficult to act independently in practice. As in Ukraine, even when it rules independently of the government, it relies on government agencies for enforcement of its decisions.9 Because such enforcement is far from reliable, the judiciary cannot be said to form an independent branch of government or an independent check on executive power. The absence of such an independent and assertive judiciary facilitates the selective application of law enforcement and regulation. Unlike Ukraine, however, Russia actually undertook significant legal and judicial reform in the 1990s.10 As Peter Solomon has shown, the period from 2001 to 2005 actually saw efforts at "judicial counterreform" in Russia. This included proposals to eliminate lifetime terms forjudges and to reduce the power of the Constitutional Court to invalidate laws." While these proposals have so far not succeeded, they indicate continued pressure on the role of the judiciary as a check on the executive branch.

Overall, the context in Russia is quite favorable to the exercise of electoral authoritarianism. It must be emphasized that this context is not simply the result of "natural forces" but, rather, has been engineered by the executive branch, most notably when it forcibly dissolved the parliament and rewrote the constitution emaciating the parliament for the benefit of the executive. Amending the law such that regional governors are appointed by the president, rather than elected, has further solidified executive control.

All of the tactics of executive control laid out in the general model of electoral authoritarianism have been applied in Russia. For the former Soviet Union, Russia has in fact been a model for other regimes, with tactics adopted first in Russia, and then used in places such as Ukraine. The selective enforcement of laws and regulation has been implemented most notoriously to gain control over the Russian media, a process that accelerated in anticipation of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004.

The most notorious cases, covered in great detail in the Western press, were those of the "oligarchs" Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The authorities turned a blind eye to their shady business dealings when they supported the government of Boris Yeltsin, most notably by financing his 1996 presidential campaign. When they fell out with Putin, however, and media outlets owned by them criticized Putin, all three faced legal actions that forced them to surrender their assets, and criminal investigations that forced two of them to flee Russia, while the third, Khodorkovsky, was imprisoned. As is often the case in Ukraine, it cannot be said that the individuals being "persecuted" were innocent of the violations with which they were charged. Rather, the problem is that such violations were pursued selectively—only when the individuals presented a political threat to the executive branch.

In addition to the well-publicized cases against Berezovsky, Gusinsky, and Khodorkovsky, a much broader effort was undertaken to control media in Russia. Political control over state-run media was tightened, and even much smaller news outlets were challenged. After the hostage crisis in a Moscow theater in late 2002, Boris Jordan, who became director of NTV after it was seized from Gusinsky, was fired over that station's coverage of the crisis.12 In the summer of 2003, Russia's last independently controlled television station, NTS, was forced to close in a regulatory action, and its broadcasting frequency was turned over to a twenty-four-hour sports network, controlled by individuals closely linked to Putin.

NTS was suspect in the eyes of the Putin government in part because it had become the home of many of the journalists set loose when NTV was seized, and was already in deep financial trouble before being closed. Its financial difficulties stemmed from its inability to reach an agreement with Russia's leading advertising agency, whose founder, Mikhail Lesin, had become Putin's press minister.13 Through the combination of administrative actions and economic leverage, the Putin government was able to completely control television in advance of the 2004 elections.

Patronage is also used to ensure that candidates favored by the executive have an advantage in elections. As in Ukraine, a wide variety of public institutions is controlled centrally, and there is little to prevent employees suspected of voting "incorrectly" from being fired. In schools, universities, hospitals, and a wide range of public institutions, pressure is placed on employees to vote for favored candidates.

Perhaps even more than in Ukraine, state control over the economy has been shown to play an essential role in maintaining the executive branch in power. This was chronicled in considerable detail in the case of the 1996 presidential election. With Yeltsin's popularity ratings in the single digits only months before the election, massive efforts were made to give "oligarchs" and other business interests very favorable access to state property (through the privatization process in general and the notorious "loans for shares" scheme in particular), in return for the massive funneling back of resources by those business interests into Yeltsin's campaign coffers. The scale of the project was shown when campaign workers were caught leaving the Kremlin with half a million U.S. dollars in cash. Presumably, those interests that helped Yeltsin win reelection could expect favorable treatment in the future as well. Later, when some of those same people opposed Putin, their interests were attacked mercilessly, such that Berezovsky, Gusinsky, and Khodorkovsky, three of the most powerful and wealthy men in Russia, were stripped of most of their business holdings.

This brief overview highlights what has been shown in a vast number of detailed studies of Russian politics since 1991, and focuses on the similarities between Russia and Ukraine. Despite considerable differences in the two countries, there is substantial overlap in key aspects of the political con- text: weak legislature and parties, strong presidency, and weak judicial branch. More striking are the close similarities in the ways that the executive branches in the two countries have sought to convert de facto power into legitimate power by skewing the ostensibly democratic processes of elections and parliamentary legislation decisively in their favor.


Armenia differs more from Russia and Ukraine than those two states differ from each other. It is a tiny country in terms of land area and population, and is even poorer than Russia and Ukraine. Moreover, it has spent much of the post-Soviet era engaged in a successful war to seize territory from Azerbaijan. And while there have been some political developments in Armenia that we have not seen in other post-Soviet cases, most notably the resignation under pressure of an unpopular president and a considerable level of political violence, politics in recent years has very much resembled the model of electoral authoritarianism described above.

Even prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan were at war over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. Armenia has been successful not only in controlling that territory, but also in taking control of a corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh to the rest of Armenia. This war has been the central political issue in post-Soviet Armenia, and was at the root of the change of presidents in February 1998. Armenia's first post-Soviet president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, was a holdover from the Soviet era. He met massive resistance and was deserted even by his own supporters when he agreed to an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)-proposed agreement that would have left Nagorno-Karabakh technically in Azerbaijan, while under Armenian control. He had little choice but to resign. This development shows that there is some capability of public dissatisfaction to affect the ruler, but it should be stressed that the attack on Ter-Petrossian was carried out largely by the elite, and he was not removed through any formal procedure such as an election or impeachment. Moreover, the snap elections that followed, and were won by Robert Kocharian, were severely criticized by the OSCE for massive fraud.

A second major turning point in Armenia's political development occurred in October 1999 when gunmen stormed the parliament in Yerevan and murdered the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, and the speaker of the parliament, Karen Demirchian, who were partners in the Unity Bloc that triumphed ^n the 1994 parliamentary elections. The gunmen later insisted that they acted alone, but the fact that the murders were so conducive to the consolidation of Kocharian's powers has led to ongoing suspicion that he was somehow connected to them.

Looking more broadly at the presidencies of Ter-Petrossian and Kocharian, we see the same conditions and tactics that characterize electoral authoritarianism elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. As is the case in Kazakhstan, by 2003 it became questionable whether Armenia should be considered an electoral authoritarian government or simply a traditional authoritarian regime. Widespread and transparent electoral fraud in the 2003 presidential elections decreased the extent to which the government's authority rested upon the legitimacy conferred by elections as opposed to force and intimidation.

Especially since 2001, Armenia has seen substantial fragmentation of all major political parties, making divide-and-conquer tactics much easier. As Freedom House reports, "several politicians who could scuttle Kocharian's plans to win a second five-year term in 2003 were kept busy putting down internal revolts staged by pro-presidential activists."14 The tactic of infiltrating pro-executive individuals into opposition parties was also practiced by Kuchma in Ukraine. The inability of opposition forces in parliament to unite, as in Ukraine, prevented the parliament as an institution from challenging presidential authority.

For example, following the attack on parliament in 1999, Aram Sarkisian was named to replace his assassinated brother as prime minister. When Kocharian sought to replace Sarkisian with someone more loyal to him, a confrontation ensued, but ultimately the parliament backed down in the face of threats to dissolve it, and Kocharian's candidate triumphed. Opposition politicians since then have tended to join forces with Kocharian, recognizing that there is little to be gained from opposing him.

Armenia's 1995 constitution gave the president the right to dissolve the legislature, a power that tends to overwhelm other provisions that might give the parliament considerable influence over the executive branch, such as the right to approve the prime minister and other ministers and to dismiss them.15 Amendments adopted in 2003 appear to limit to six specific circumstances the president's right to dissolve parliament, but it is not clear that these limits have practical effect. In addition to power to dissolve the parliament, Armenia's president can circumvent it through extensive decree powers: presidential decrees have the status of any other legislation as long as they do not contradict the constitution. This gives the president little reason to compromise with parliament. In December 1994, Ter-Petrossian used this power to ban the major opposition party (and the party of his successor, Kocharian) by decree.16 In 2000, Kocharian issued a decree giving himself exclusive control over high-level military appointments.17

Under both the Ter-Petrossian and Kocharian governments, the executive branch has had considerable control over the judicial branch. Until the 2003 constitutional amendments, the president appointed the commission that hires all judges, and more important, could dismiss them. Under the constitutional amendments adopted in 2003, the Justice Council would not be appointed by the president, but by the judges themselves.18

In these circumstances, selective law enforcement is relatively easy to use against opponents of the executive. Since Kocharian came to power, many of Ter-Petrossian's ministers have been charged with a variety of crimes. Politicization of the criminal justice process appeared especially salient in the investigation of the 1999 attack on parliament. Initially, a number of people, including several with connections to Kocharian, were arrested, but those who implicated Kocharian were soon released. It would appear either that the original decision to arrest those individuals, or the decision to release them, was politically motivated. Similarly, there were massive arrests of opposition supporters in the days before the 2003 presidential elections. In 1995, the Supreme Court of Armenia upheld Ter-Petrossian's suspension of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (also known as the Dashnak Party) for six months, a period that conveniently ended just after the national elections.19

The process of constitutional adoption and revision has, as in Russia, been controlled by the executive through the referendum process. In 1995 Ter-Petrossian submitted Armenia's first post-Soviet constitution to a referendum, considerably augmenting the powers of the presidency. As in similar cases, there is little surprise that a constitutional process controlled by the president had this result. In May 2003, a series of amendments was enacted that purported to rein in the president's power. Opposition parliamentarians, skeptical that Kocharian's slate of amendments would in fact limit his power, sought to put forth a competing slate of amendments, to be voted on in competition with Kocharian's proposal in the same referendum. Kocharian wielded his considerable power to prevent this, threatening the legislature with dissolution if it persisted.

According to some sources, Armenia continues to have a fairly free press, although the same tactics used in Ukraine and Russia have been employed there, and pressure on the media seems to have increased in the run-up to the 2003 elections. Several examples illustrate. Ter-Petrossian was reported to have used control over newsprint sales to control the press.20 Libel charges have been made against editors, most notably when the newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian received a one-year suspended sentence for libel in 2000.21 Small broadcasters in particular were threatened by a law requiring that they broadcast only in Armenian, and that 65 percent of programming be original. These provisions jeopardized small broadcasters by considerably increasing their programming costs. In April 2002, the National Council on Television and Radio (whose members are appointed by the president) auctioned television frequencies, such that independent stations A1+ and Noyan Tapan were forced off the air. This left state-controlled media as the only major news source for the 2003 elections.

Within the parliament, Armenia has seen the adoption of a measure to quash dissent not seen in other cases. After an attempt by opposition parliamentarians to impeach President Kocharian in 2002, the pro-presidential majority passed a measure that would allow the removal of "unruly" deputies from the parliament. Crucially, this decision could be made by the speaker of the parliament alone. At the time the measure was adopted, this position was held by a Kocharian backer.22 It is not clear why Kocharian's supporters found it necessary to take this measure, since their majority in parliament would guarantee the failure of the proposal to impeach the president.

The 2003 elections saw the massive use of executive branch power to secure victory for the incumbent, Kocharian. Most notably, at least 150 campaign officials of Kocharian's run-off opponent, Stepan Demirchian, were detained in the days before the election.23 Many others were prevented from attending opposition rallies when authorities blocked the major highways into Yerevan to keep people away.24 The OSCE reported that while the day of the election itself proceeded smoothly, there was considerable evidence both of preelection intimidation of voters and opposition supporters, and of postelection falsification of results. State resources, such as media and government facilities, were disproportionately available to Kocharian. As a result, the OSCE withheld its endorsement of the election results.25 This represents a difference from Ukraine (prior to 2004) and Russia, where leaders were able to heavily influence outcomes without being so transparent and without incurring OSCE disapproval.

Overall, one might argue that Armenia has gone beyond electoral authoritarianism to traditional authoritarianism. The central support for such a judgment would be the extent to which Kocharian's government has resorted to outright repression and electoral fraud, rather than being limited by what can be accomplished behind a plausible veneer of liberal democracy. In 2005, Freedom House continued to label Armenia pardy free, but lowered its evaluation "due to the government's violent response to peaceful civic protests in April, a broader pattern of political repression, and the authorities' increasingly unresponsive and undemocratic governance."26 In other words, to maintain his position, Kocharian seems to be relying much less on the legitimacy provided by liberal democratic procedures and much more on straightforward repression.

Armenia is a very different country with very different politics from Ukraine and Russia, yet many of the same tactics have been used to yield some degree of democratic legitimacy without succumbing to democratic control. That these practices persisted after the overthrow of Ter-Petrossian by Kocharian warns against the temptation of associating electoral authoritarianism with particular individuals. It is a characteristic of a political system, not of particular individuals.


In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been perhaps the archetypical pseudodemocratic authoritarian ruler in the former Soviet Union. By 2003, it became questionable whether Nazarbayev's government could even be considered an electoral authoritarian regime, as he increasingly turned to the straightforward repression that characterizes authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless, the case of Kazakhstan is interesting because, throughout the 1990s, Nazarbayev was a pioneer of some of the tactics that became typical elsewhere. Especially in his repeated use of the referendum to alter the constitution, Nazarbayev has found a technique that combines reliable control with apparent democratic legitimacy.

Nazarbayev was already the leader of Kazakhstan at the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991. Like Kravchuk in Ukraine, and several others, he waited to see the outcome of the coup in Moscow before deciding whether to oppose it. He led Kazakhstan in declaring independence, and then worked to set up the system of government it currently possesses. In terms of political context, Kazakhstan very much resembles Russia and Ukraine: the judiciary remains weak and beholden to the executive branch,27 parties are weak, and immense constitutional authority is vested in the presidency, earning Kazakhstan a score of 15.5 on Frye's scale. The most fundamental power of legislatures, that over budgets, is severely constrained in Kazakhstan, where the parliament is not allowed to appropriate funds or to raise taxes without approval of the executive.28

Even so, when the parliament became too independent for Nazarbayev, he twice pressured it to disband. In the first instance, in 1993, he obtained the resignation of the parliament that had been elected under the Soviet Union in 1989. Two years later, after new elections in 1994, he used the Supreme Court, which he controlled, to rule that the 1994 parliamentary election (which Nazarbayev had organized) had been unconstitutional and that the parliament therefore had no legitimacy. When the parliament responded by trying to suspend the constitutional court, Nazarbayev unilaterally disbanded the parliament and called yet another set of new elections. He then issued a decree outlawing participation in unregistered organizations, effectively denying the right of free assembly.29 Yet, he did all of this while solemnly asserting that he was following the requirements of democracy and the rule of law: "The law is the law, and the President is obliged to abide by the constitution . . . otherwise, how will we build a rule-of-law state?"30

Within this context, Nazarbayev has used many of the same techniques used by presidents in Russia and Ukraine. The selective use of law enforcement has been extremely effective, not only in controlling the media and in placing economic power directly in the hands of Nazarbayev's allies, but also more directly by eliminating challengers in elections.

The ongoing strength of clan-based political networks in Kazakhstan facilitates the construction of patronage networks and a reliable political "machine." Two relatives of Nazarbayev, his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva and his son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, have come to control significant parts of the media in the country as well as the security forces.31 Furthermore, Nazarbayev has consistently strived to solidify state control of the economy. Having generated political support through privatizing state assets to loyal supporters in the 1990s, Nazarbayev then sought to rein in these increasingly powerful figures. The Agency for Strategic Planning released a plan to consolidate Kazakhstan's leading industries into several large consortia controlled by the state. Control by the state would mean, of course, control by Nazarbayev appointees. Presumably this provides an extra guarantee that those granted power by Nazarbayev will not turn on him.

However, the plan has ran into some difficulties, as many of these business elites have resisted having their power curbed, and have responded by joining the opposition.32 An attempt by Nazarbayev's son-in-law Aliyev, as head of the security service, to wrest control of key assets from leading industrialist (and energy minister) Mukhtar Ablyazov, led to a standoff, in which Aliyev was transferred to another position and Nazarbayev publicly criticized "new Kazakhs," such as Ablyazov. Simultaneously, a tender for the state-held shares in Kazakhstan's largest bank was suspiciously won by a previously unknown group rumored to be headed by Aliyev. Ablyazov and others responded by going into moderate opposition, and Ablyazov was subsequently arrested in March 2002 and sentenced to six years in prison.33 Thus Nazarbayev has a variety of ways to control various assets, and the interlinking of political and economic power gives a fundamental advantage to the chief executive.

Like his colleagues in other post-Soviet states, Nazarbayev has sought to reduce the scope of independent media. He has done this both through formal laws that intimidate the media and through administrative harassment. In March 2001, media laws were amended to make it much easier to charge media outlets with libel. In particular, Kazakh media oudets were made responsible for the content of material either retransmitted or reprinted from international sources. Vague iaws against insulting the dignity of the president—a criminal offense for which journalists have served time in prison—make it easy to prosecute those who criticize Nazarbayev or question the legality of some of his actions. Massive fines for libel charges have bankrupted some outlets.34 The result is considerable self-censorship by journalists and editors leery of running into criminal or libel charges. As a result, Western investigations into allegations that substantial bribes were paid to Nazarbayev by representatives of Western oil firms were largely ignored in the Kazakh press.35 In some instances, as in other countries, state-owned printing houses refused to print issues of newspapers that were deemed to be problematic.

In addition, the state controls nearly all broadcast facilities, allowing the government to shut down any radio or television station whose programming it does not like. While there are independent radio and television stations in Kazakhstan, the only ones that broadcast nationwide are those controlled by the state. The result of all this is that news coverage is highly skewed in Nazarbayev's favor.

One tactic not seen in Russia or Ukraine but used by Nazarbayev to control elections is to make it impossible for certain candidates to run. In October 1998, shortly after calling early elections, Nazarbayev's government passed a law prohibiting anyone from running for president who had a criminal conviction in the past year. Shortly thereafter, Nazarbayev's strongest opponent, former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was charged with and convicted of participating in an illegal organization, and thus barred from running.36 Police harassment has also been used to hamper the campaigns of opposition politicians. In October 1998, Kazhegeldin was detained by police just as he was to attend a press conference announcing his candidacy for the presidency.

It is also worth noting that the election law in Kazakhstan derives not from parliamentary legislation, but from a presidential decree. Moreover, civil servants supporting opposition politicians have been fired from their jobs.37 This is an especially powerful lever in an impoverished country with high unemployment. Nominating petitions, mandating 170,000 signatures to run for president, required signers to include extensive personal data, including passport numbers. This contributed to the impression that the authorities would know exactly who signed petitions for Nazarbayev and who supported others. There were widespread reports of state organizations that required all workers to sign petitions for Nazarbayev. One doctor reported being admonished by her director: "I'm warning you, this is voluntary!"38

This control of elections has been central to Nazarbayev's strategy of rule, because he has, as is the paradoxical norm in electoral authoritarianism, used elections to avoid political competition. In May 1995, Nazarbayev proposed canceling the forthcoming 1996 presidential election and extending his term until 2000. The proposal was not approved by parliament (which had been disbanded the month before) but instead subjected to a referendum, which due to all the tactics mentioned above, would have an easily controlled outcome. Even that, however, seems not to have been satisfactory to Nazarbayev. The official results indicated that 91 percent of the voters turned out and that 95 percent approved extending Nazarbayev's term. Unofficial counts indicated that turnout was closer to 20 percent or 30 percent.39 In the 2004 parliamentary elections, only one opposition delegate was elected, and he refused to take his position. Partly as a result of this, Freedom House now categorizes Kazakhstan as "not free."40


Kyrgyzstan is similar to Ukraine in that it was regarded as one of the most promising young democracies in the region in the mid-1990s. While it has always had economic difficulties, its government, led by a former physics professor, Askar Akayev, rather than by a career Communist Party functionary, was considered more progressive, more liberal, and more democratic than those of its neighbors in Central Asia. By 2000, however, Kyrgyzstan and Akayev had moved significantly toward the norm in Central Asia, with the tactics of Kyrgyzstan's neighbors being adopted by Akayev to retain and consolidate his power. By 2003, politics in Kyrgyzstan was not substantially different from that in Kazakhstan or Russia. In 2005, Kyrgyzstan followed Ukraine's path, when the Tulip Revolution ejected Akayev from power.

There were early signs of the potential for electoral authoritarianism in Kyrgyzstan: in September and October 1994, Akayev followed the model established by Yeltsin in Russia a year earlier, dissolving the parliament on the grounds that it "has ceased to function," and then putting a new constitution to a referendum. This new constitution and subsequent versions have vested immense legal power in the presidency (15.5 on Frye's scale), including control over all cabinet appointments except the prime minister, which requires parliamentary approval, extensive decree powers, and considerable power over the budget.41

Akayev also had control over the judiciary, which is a separate branch of government formally but in fact is subject to the executive. Akayev had appointment powers, and more important, dismissal powers, over all judges. The result was some blatantly political rulings: One of Akayev's main challengers, Feliks Kulov, was sentenced to seven years in prison and had his property confiscated by the same court that had previously dismissed the charges against him.42 The International Helsinki Federation reports that "it was claimed that nearly all judges were appointed on the basis of bribes and devotion to the present regime ... no trial of a political nature ended with a lawful ruling, and courts ignored constitutional and international provisions."43

By 2003, Akayev had for the fourth time resorted to one of the most uniformly used tactics of electoral authoritarianism: the revision of the constitution through an executive-led referendum. On February 2, 2003, the Kyrgyz people voted on a slate of constitutional changes that had been designed by a group chosen by Akayev. The referendum had several provisions. Among the most prominent was a change from a bicameral to a unicameral parliament. Conveniently for Akayev, this required new elections. A shift from a proportional election law to a single-member district (SMD) law undermined the consolidation of parties (because, as in Ukraine, the SMD system opened up the parliament to independents).44 As in Ukraine, the president complained about a weak parliament, but was actually taking every conceivable step to ensure that the parliament remained weak.

The referendum also included a "motion of confidence" question on Akayev's continued rule. There is no constitutional provision for such a public vote of confidence in the president, but Akayev used the favorable results to try to put to rest a movement among opposition parties to pressure him to resign. In both the constitutional revision and the confidence vote, Akayev circumvented the parliament and evaded the problem of checks and balances by going directly to the people. With the ability to draft the questions himself, and considerable means to influence voting, a triumph for Akayev was assured.

Previous constitutional referenda were held in 1994 (to allow for amending the constitution through referendum and to create a bicameral parliament), in 1996 (to enhance presidential powers, especially over cabinet jj appointments), and in 1998 (in five areas, the most significant of which were removal of parliamentary immunity from prosecution, limitation of parliamentary power over the budget, and a change in the number of members of parliament).45 It is significant that the composition of the parliament was changed three times in a decade. Most obviously, the parliament's powers were constrained. But simply by changing its composition frequently, the consolidation of that institution can be inhibited. Moreover, changes to the number of deputies or in the number of chambers can require new elections to be held, thus ridding the executive of a troublesome parliament. This might explain why the bicameral parliament was adopted in 1994 only to be dropped nine years later.

Akayev sought to control the media through a number of measures. In 1998, a new set of media laws was issued stating that the Ministry of Justice, the National Agency for Communications (NAC), and the presidential administration must approve all broadcast licenses. The laws also expanded the power of the NAC to close media outlets or ban specific programs. Most of these provisions are unconstitutional, since the constitution states that only the courts can close a media outlet, but they have been enforced nonetheless. This example points to the weakness of the judiciary in Kyrgyzstan. Uchkun, the state-run publishing house, owns the only newspaper-printing facilities in Kyrgyzstan. In the run-up to the 2000 presidential elections, Uchkun refused to print three newspapers, Res Publica, Asaba, and Delo No. The same three newspapers were subjected to numerous other instances of selective law enforcement. Res Publica was fined for insulting the "honor and dignity" of the state television network, was refused distribution through the state-controlled distribution network, and had issues confiscated from kiosks by authorities. Asaba attracted particular attention after its owner declared his candidacy for the presidency. It was fined $105,000, a substantial sum in Kyrgyzstan, for insulting a member of parliament. Delo No. had its offices raided by Interior Ministry forces, and the editor and a journalist were detained by the ministry and subjected to lengthy interrogations.46 Visits by tax and fire inspectors to media offices are not uncommon, in some cases outlets are ordered to close.47 In the case of Vecherny Bishkek, a widely read newspaper in the capital, the government simply bought the paper.

On the broadcast side, there are independent stations in Kyrgyzstan, but they are relegated to the UHF channels while all the more widely accessible VHF channels are allocated to state television.48 In sum, there was considerable direct control, indirect interference, and intimidation of the Kyrgyz media, and it is not clear that the Tulip Revolution has substantially changed matters.49 As in Ukraine, however, media are controlled through mostly legal channels, using existing laws and the convenient state monopoly on newspaper printing and distribution facilities. As a result, the OSCE noted in its report on the 2000 elections that state-owned media "failed to comply with its legal obligation to provide balanced and objective reporting" and that the pressure on media caused "self-censorship and a notable decrease in the number of media outlets able or willing to offer an editorial line independent of or critical of the authorities.50 Together, all of these measures comprise what Jerzy Wieclaw of the OSCE mission in Kyrgyzstan characterized as "structural" censorship.51

Patronage has been a powerful tool for Akayev in controlling elections. This was seen clearly in the 2003 constitutional referendum and vote of confidence: credible reports indicated that students at Kyrgyz State University were told that they would be expelled if they did not support Akayev.52 In the 2000 presidential elections, students at universities in Bishkek, Naryn, and Osh were told to vote for Akayev or risk failing their exams. Students in Bishkek had their passports seized to further ensure their compliance. University students in Jalal Abad had to show their ballots to university officials before placing them in ballot boxes. The students were better off than their professors, who were expected to donate a portion of their salary to Akayev's campaign and to take a leave of absence to campaign for him. Similarly, there was pressure on state employees to sign nominating petitions for Akayev, to campaign for him, and finally to vote for him. At least one village head was dismissed from his job as a result of campaigning for an opposition candidate.53

Elections have also been controlled through legislation that made it difficult for major opposition parties to compete. Shortly before the 2000 parliamentary elections, a new law was passed disallowing participation by parties registered for less than one year, which effectively eliminated the Ar-Namys party. The El Bei-Bechara party was banned from the election by the Justice Ministry on the grounds that the party did not state specifically on its registration forms that it intended to run candidates in elections. Thus, the second and third largest parties in the country were eliminated, in ostensibly legal fashion.54 Authorities have also resorted to more traditional fraud: in the 2000 presidential election, a ballot box was found to have 700 votes for Akayev in it before the voting began.55

A shift in election procedures from a proportional representation system to a plurality single-member district system will also enhance the prospects for presidential control. As was the case in Ukraine, SMD rules, in a society with a weak party structure, tend to inhibit party consolidation. Moreover, district level votes are in some ways more amenable to the application of "administrative resources." Thus, just as Kuchma in Ukraine found going to a fully proportional system unpalatable, Akayev successfully rolled back that system in Kyrgyzstan.

However, as in Ukraine, the system came crashing down. In early 2005, parliamentary elections were held, and were widely perceived to be fraudulent.56 These elections were required as a result of the constitutional changes pushed through by Akayev in 2003. He expected that he would be able to use the new elections to gain a pliable parliament. This indeed occurred, but the obvious unfairness of the elections spurred the protests that forced Akayev from power.

As the newly elected parliament met, protests broke out first in the regions and then in Bishkek itself. The police rapidly lost control of the situation, and President Akayev was forced to flee the country. The details of the Tulip Revolution differ considerably from those of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. The opposition in Kyrgyzstan was less well-organized, and the protests were more spontaneous. Instead of a single organization demanding Akayev's resignation, there were mobs in the streets of Bishkek. Rather than order and nonviolence, there were chaos, looting, and a few deaths. Nonetheless, the broad causes were similar. General frustration with corruption and authoritarianism, crystallized by a stolen election, and permitted by passive security forces, led to the overthrow of a government that seemed to have matters well in hand.

As in Ukraine, the euphoria of the revolution has rapidly given way to fears that the new rulers are little better than the old ones. Only a year after the Tulip Revolution, a new opposition movement was preparing street protests to force from power the president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had been elected following the Tulip Revolution. Among the charges leveled at Bakiyev and his circle were that they supported the election of a noted organized crime figure to parliament and that they may have been implicated in an assassination attempt on a leading human rights advocate and government critic.57

Electoral Authoritarianism Beyond the Former Soviet Union

The tactics that are employed in Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are not unique to the former Soviet Union. A large number of countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America share at least some of the characteristics of electoral authoritarianism. In this section, we summarize the elements of electoral authoritarianism in Malaysia and Venezuela, to illustrate how electoral authoritarianism spans the globe. The discussion of each case is too brief to establish conclusively the degree of similarity with Ukraine and the other post-Soviet cases, but the point is to show that the same kinds of tactics and dynamic exist beyond the former Soviet Union.


In Malaysia, electoral authoritarianism developed directly out of colonial rule, just as in Ukraine, it developed out of Soviet rule. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has been the leading party in a coalition that has won every general election since 1957.58 Mahathir Mohamad ruled as prime minister from 1991 until 2003, employing many of the same tactics seen in the former Soviet Union. His main political challenger, and one-time heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, was arrested on dubious corruption and sodomy charges in 1998, and subsequently imprisoned. Security forces have arrested opposition party activists in recent years. "The government gives itself an overwhelming advantage in elections through its selective allocation of state funds to supporters, use of security to restrict freedoms of expression and assembly, and partisan use of broadcast media."59

As in Ukraine before 2004, opposition groups openly criticize government policies and compete in elections, but they have little genuine chance of winning those elections. Moreover, the judiciary appears to have come increasingly under executive branch control, as demonstrated by the trial of Anwar Ibrahim: According to the U.S. State Department, "government action, constitutional amendments, legislation restricting judicial review, and other factors steadily have eroded judicial independence and strengthened executive over the judiciary."60 As in the post-Soviet cases, Malaysia has a Printing Presses and Publications Act, which bans "malicious" news and has been used against critics of the government. Both state-run television and the main private stations generally support the government. All of the regional governments have their own television stations, except the one controlled by an opposition party, which has been unable to receive a license.61 All print media must get a new license every year, making it easy for the government to close those that criticize it. The result is not that a lot publications are closed, but that they practice self-censorship.62

In contrast to the post-Soviet cases, executive power in Malaysia is vested in the prime minister rather than in the presidency, which is more ceremonial. This is an important distinction, for it indicates that the link between presidential forms of government and electoral authoritarianism is not a necessary one. Another important differehte is that in Malaysia the "party of power" really is a political party, with a thoroughly developed party apparatus and a long history. In that sense, it is more like the party based "machines" in U.S. cities than the post-Soviet cases, which tend to take the executive branch of government as their organizational basis.

Since Mahathir's retirement in 2003, there has been considerable hope that Malaysia would embark on political liberalization. There have been some promising signs, such as the High Court's overturiiing of Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy conviction and the suspension in 2004 of several UMNO members for vote buying.63 It is notable, however, that these changes were all approved by the UMNO and the prime minister. Therefore, it is still not clear that genuine challenge to the government is possible.


In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has developed a form of rule that is heavily reliant on the use of mass public opinion, as expressed through referenda, to circumvent horizontal checks on his power. This willingness to take conflict to the voters is in some respects "hyperdemocratic," but it does not


lead to liberal democratic rule. Instead, it has helped consolidate Chavez's power. Like Kuchma in Ukraine, Chavez came to power (in 1998) as a popularly elected challenger promising to stem an economic collapse. Unlike the cases considered until now, Venezuela was not a state recently freed from colonial or communist rule, having been independent since 1821. It does, however, share with the other cases a meager history of liberal democracy, having endured a series of coups, the most recent of which nearly brought Chavez to power in 1992.

After coming to power through an election in 1998, Chavez quickly embarked on a program to consolidate his control of both the economy and politics. In Venezuela, the world's third largest exporter of crude oil, much was at stake. He was able to pass laws that removed much of the power of the legislature and put the judiciary under executive control. For example, a November 2000 "fast track" measure granted him extensive decree powers.64 He accomplished this in large part through an alliance with the military, which received extensive patronage from Chavez in return for its support. He used the military to take control of the state oil company, appointing two former generals to head the company. He also appointed military allies to be presidential chief of staff, head of the secret police, and head of the tax service. Michael Coppedge therefore labels Venezuela a "delegative democracy." While it .appears that a narrow majority of citizens supports Chavez's policies, he has succeeded in removing any institutional checks on his power.65

As we have seen in other examples, Chavez quickly appointed a commission to write a new constitution to strengthen his legal powers. This new document, which was passed via a referendum, gave Chavez the right to dissolve the legislature and would allow him to remain in power until 2013, a term in office not contemplated even in Central Asia. With a majority in parliament, Chavez was able to pass a law increasing the number of Supreme Court justices from twenty to thirty-two. Since he would appoint the additional justices, this guaranteed his control of the court.66 At several levels, including local government, this heavy-handedness led to increasing victories for opposition forces. Chavez responded by using the parliament, which he controlled, to give the president even more power. Despite his actions, elections in 2000 were regarded as free and fair by international observers.

In 2004, Chavez's opponents were able to collect enough signatures to force a recall referendum, which was defeated. The campaign was highly contentious, and the vote was marred by credible allegations of vote-rigging.67 Because 2.8 million signatures had to be collected to force the referendum, la lista is now a powerful force in Venezuelan life, with those who signed the petitions unable to get government jobs or qualify for Chavez's welfare programs.68

To some of Chavez's defenders, he is ultrademocratic. He is viewed as someone who attacks entrenched privilege and pursues the populist goals of the neediest (e.g., through creating "missions" in Venezuela's poorest areas, where jobs and subsidized foodstuffs are available to those who have always lived in poverty).69 Chavez demonstrates one of the most important qualities of successful electoral authoritarianism: the ability to convince voters (and ideally international observers as well) that the limitations placed on genuine liberal democracy are worth the goals being achieved and are justifiable in light of the alternatives (the opposition).

Comparing and Contrasting the Cases: Toward a General Understanding of Electoral Authoritarianism

The cases described above demonstrate a significant overlap in the means that leaders use to stifle genuine political competition in formally democratic societies. We are prompted to ask, therefore, what these systems have in common, and what distinguishes them. It is equally important, but more difficult, to seek to identify common causes of electoral authoritarianism in these countries.

If we look at all the cases together, post-Soviet and non-post-Soviet, what they share is a chief executive who has become extremely powerful, largely by using the resources of the executive branch both to build support and to hamstring the opposition. The cases also share judicial branches that are largely under the influence, if not the direct control, of the executive. The tactics that leaders employ to maintain power are based on these two basic sources of power: control over the executive branch and the judiciary. They also share many of the same tactics: the permitting of illegal acts by supporters, arbitrary prosecution of the opposition, regulatory obstruction of independent media, and the use of patronage to win elections.

Different leaders, however, have combined these methods in slightly different ways suited to the unique conditions of each country. Armenia, for example, has a freer press than most of the other cases discussed, but more blatant election fraud. Some have also used tactics that others have not (yet) tried: Akayev in Kyrgyzstan used party registration laws to prevent opposition parties from running in an election; Kocharian in Armenia, with solid control over a parliamentary majority, instituted a rule allowing the majority in parliament to remove "unruly" opposition deputies; Chavez in Venezuela has a lucrative state oil monopoly to buy the loyalty of the country's underprivileged; Mahathir in Malaysia had a well-organized party machine.

What distinguishes these states, in differing degrees, from more traditional authoritarian regimes, is that despite their violation of many democratic norms, they have not completely abandoned the democratic process. Indeed, for some, such as Chavez, elections are crucial to their claims to power. For each of the leaders in question, a plausible claim to being democratically elected is an important part of their ability to rule. Elections are not completely falsified in these states because blatant falsification would destroy the leader's democratic legitimacy. That this is important was demonstrated to any doubters by the speed with which Viktor Yanukovych's position crumbled when it became clear that he could claim victory only through massive fraud. Similarly, in Yugoslavia (2000), Georgia (2003), and Kyrgyzstan (2005), fraudulent elections were a key catalyst in protests that removed democratic authoritarian leaders.70 More broadly, it is important to note that the popularity of leaders remains relevant in these systems. Electoral authoritarianism is fairly stable in places such as Russia where the leadership is popular. When such popularity crumbles, however, these leaders become vulnerable. They may then have to choose between shifting to full authoritarianism and risking ejection from power.

In thinking about the fundamental underpinnings of electoral authoritarianism and the potential for reform, important differences emerge. One major difference is the role of political parties. Our examination of Ukraine found that the weakness of political parties facilitates presidential domination. In Malaysia, however, die UMNO played a central role in maintaining Mahathir in power. The role of parties there is reminiscent of parties in the classic machine politics model in American cities, where one dominant party was the organizational mechanism for distributing patronage and collecting votes. In Russia and Armenia, a different model holds: parties remain fairly weak, but strong presidents have used coalitions of relatively weak parties to control parliament.

The differences in die role of parties in these cases might not reflect an underlying difference, but different levels of consolidation of power by the rulers. In Malaysia, where the UMNO has ruled for over four decades, the rulers have institutionalized their patronage network through the party. In several of me post-Soviet cases, including Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia, we have seen an attempt to accomplish the same thing, with different degrees of success. It is telling that Yeltsin tried twice, and failed, to organize a "presidential" party or "party of power" to contest parliamentary elections and then control parliament. Putin has succeeded where Yeltsin failed, at least in controlling parliament, though it is not clear that his party, Unified Russia, also provides a basis for institutionalizing political influence and vote collecting. Similarly, Kuchma in Ukraine has tried the same thing, first witfi the National Democratic Party in 1998 and then with United Ukraine in 2002. Both failed to dominate elections, but Kuchma had some success in using the latter to control parliament following the elections.

In both Russia and Ukraine, the exercise of political power seems more dependent upon ad hoc and shifting networks of patronage than on any institutionalized organization. In Central Asia, the same challenge occurs, but the role played by parties, successfully in Malaysia and less so in Ukraine and Russia, appears to be played by traditional clan networks (though these clan networks can also challenge the leadership).71 In Venezuela under Chavez, that role has been played largely by the military. We can conclude, then, that all of these leaders face the challenge of institutionalizing their networks of influence, but that they pursue different routes, based on the strongest available networks. In some countries this may be a clan structure, in others a party, and in still others the executive apparatus or the military.

Another distinction worth noting is that in Malaysia, unlike the other cases discussed here, the prime minister, not the president, dominates the political system. This difference, however, masks an underlying similarity: the chief executive has extensive constitutional power vis-a-vis the legislature and extensive de facto power through the executive branch. It is perhaps more a matter of labeling than of substance that Malaysia has a parliamentary system with a ceremonial president and vests in the prime minister powers that in other states are vested in a president. The question is an important one, because in the preceding chapters it has been argued that part of Ukraine's problem lies in its use of a presidential rather than a parliamentary form of government. The example of Malaysia does not invalidate this claim, but rather points to a broader and fundamental caution: that changing Ukraine's institutional format without somehow achieving a functioning parliament that is a counterweight to the executive will achieve little. As Ukraine shifts power from president to prime minister, this will be a central concern.

A final distinction worth noting is that, to differing degrees, these states can be considered autocracies. It might be argued that Armenia and Kazakhstan, among the cases examined here, have replaced electoral legitimacy with repression as a means of maintaining the regime in power. Venezuela is harder to classify, after the unrest of early 2003, because it is clear both that repression was used and that Chavez retains a great deal of popular legitimacy, and he has strived to maintain a degree of legality in his rule. Similarly, in Armenia, the extensive outright fraud in the 2003 presidential elections, which was recognized as such internationally, calls into question whether we should just call this an autocracy. In Russia and Malaysia, to label the regime an autocracy without qualification might distort as much as to label it democratic without qualification.

The slide of several of these countries toward all-out authoritarianism raises the question of whether electoral authoritarianism is stable, or whether it is indeed a transition point between authoritarianism and liberal democracy. More precisely, we should say that electoral authoritarianism may be a transition point on the path back to full authoritarianism from an unsustainable attempt at full liberalization. In the post-Soviet cases, it may be too early to say. Yeltsin's ability to pass his rule intact, and even strengthened, to Putin, indicates a certain stability. However, the fact that Freedom House classified Russia as "not free" in late 2004 demonstrates the widely shared opinion that it has evolved into full authoritarianism.72 Moreover, while few envision a "colored revolution" in Russia, it remained unclear in 2006 how Putin plans to pass on or extend his rule when his second term expires in 2008.

The inability of Kuchma to pass on his rule intact raises the question whether this model can be transferred or is essentially a personal accrual of power unstable beyond any individual. The same question arises in Central Asia. In Azerbaijan, a case not studied here, President Haidar Aliyev successfully paved the way for his son to replace him. In Mauritania and Venezuela, it appears that a change of ruler will mean a change of regime, for better or worse. Only in Malaysia does it appear that electoral authoritarianism is institutionalized.

The finding that electoral authoritarianism is vulnerable is not, by itself, good news. In the cases we have examined here, it appears that either full-blown authoritarianism or internal chaos are more likely successors to electoral authoritarianism than is liberal democracy. Revolutions in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan are evidence of the instability of electoral authoritarianism. But none of these cases is clearly embarked on a path to liberal democracy. In each, political competition and rule of law remain weak, and the use of "administrative resources" by the executive branch remains a key factor in politics. The most important progress has been in freedom of the press.

A Broader Perspective

In some respects, the cross-national occurrence of "electoral authoritarianism" should not be surprising, for the same kinds of tactics have been used or attempted even in much more developed liberal democracies. In the United States, for example, the practice of giving high-level government positions, such as ambassadorships to choice countries, in return for campaign support is widely acknowledged. Similarly, incumbent leaders everywhere use the visibility provided by their positions to obtain a disproportionate share of media coverage.

In more subtle ways, such as the redistricting process that governs elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbents seek, often successfully, to use their current power to change the rules to disadvantage future challengers. In 2003, one of the most prominent cases arose in the state of Texas, where the Republican Party, in control of the White House and the Texas legislature, but not the Texas delegation to the House of Representatives, believed that it could win as many as six seats from the Democratic Party before the polls ever opened, simply by redrawing districts in such a way as to create more majority Republican districts. Democrats cried foul, despite the fact that the then-existing distribution of seats was due to their own previous redistricting plans.73

The same kinds of problems arise in Europe as well. The most extreme contemporary case is Italy under Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi exemplifies, in a more limited way, many of the practices we have seen in the former Soviet Union: his rise to power was based first on his status as Italy's wealthiest person, which was built on his control of much of the country's media. After becoming prime minister, he furthered his control of media through his control of state television. Despite a series of very credible corruption allegations, he has avoided prosecution through his control over the parliament, which has continuously changed Italy's criminal procedures in ways designed to obstruct his prosecution. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union/ Christian Social Union Party under Helmut Kohl was found to be trading political influence for illegal campaign contributions, and in France, Jacques Chirac used money gained from kickbacks on city contracts to support his election campaigns. In 2004—5, Canada also experienced major corruption in the ruling Liberal Party, when money from state contracts was funneled into the party's campaign fund in Quebec.

Therefore, we should not necessarily conclude that the politicians themselves are different—that Western politicians are inherently honest and that others are not. The difference seems to be in how far politicians can go in different countries before something or somebody pushes back. That may be a powerful opposition party (or coalition) holding hearings in parliament or using corruption as a potent campaign tool; or it may be a media sufficiently independent to resist encroachments, rather than succumbing to them; or it may be an independent judiciary unwilling to countenance selective law enforcement or illegal behavior; or it might be state employees and students with sufficient legal protection to vote for whomever they choose without fear of losing their positions.

The primary difference between the liberal democracies and the electoral authoritarian regimes is that in the former, power tends to equilibrate. In liberal democracies, politicians who become increasingly powerful tend to engender increasing opposition. In electoral authoritarian systems, in contrast, political and economic power tend to centralize, such that those who initially gain an advantage can then use that leverage to create further advantage. This self-reinforcing cycle is limited only by the competence and lifespan of the ruler. The possibility of reforming these systems will be addressed in the concluding chapter.


1. The literature on "electoral authoritarianism," labeled in various ways, was reviewed in Chapter Two. Among the most important works are: Thomas Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm," Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (January 2002): 5-21; Larry Diamond, 'Thinking about Hybrid Regimes," Journal of Democracy 13 (April 2002): 21-35; Charles King, "Potemkin Democracy," National Interest 64 (Summer 2001): 93-104; Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, "The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism," Journal of Democracy 13 (April 2002): 51-63; Guillermo O'Donnell, "Delegative Democracy," Journal of Democracy 5, no. 1 (January 1994): 57-59; Philip G. Roeder, "Varieties of Post-Soviet Authoritarian Regimes," Post-Soviet Affairs 10 (1994): 61-101; Fareed Zakaria, 'The Rise of Illiberal Democracy," ForeignAffairs 6, no. 6 (November-December 1997): 22-43.

2. One can certainly debate where the line should be drawn between the middle group and the authoritarian states (perhaps Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan belong with the latter), but the question is unimportant for two reasons. First, the numbers themselves must be regarded as highly imprecise estimates; they are simply quantifications of very qualitative judgments. They are useful summary indicators, but it would be a mistake to take them too seriously. Second, since the categories are not held to have any crucial implications, the analysis in no way changes if countries are viewed as belonging in one group or another.

3. Timothy Frye, "A Politics of Institutional Choice: Post-Communist Presidencies," Comparative Political Studies 30, no. 5 (October 1997), 544.

4. M. Steven Fish, "The Executive Deception: Superpresidentialism and the Degradation of Russian Politics," in Building the Russian State: Institutional Crisis and the Quest for Democratic Governance, ed. Valerie Sperling (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), 177-92.

5. Frye, "A Politics of Institutional Choice," 545^6.

6. For a detailed analysis of the structure and functioning of the Russian parliament, see Steven S. Smith and Thomas F. Remington, The Politics of Institutional Choice: The Formation of the Russian State Duma (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

7. Joel Ostrow, Comparing Post-Soviet Legislatures: A Theory of Institutional Design and Political Conflict (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000), 93.

8. On the weakness of parties in Russia, see Henry Hale, Why Not Parties in Russia: Democracy, Federalism, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

9. Pamela Jordon, "Russian Courts: Enforcing the Rule of Law," in Building the Russia State: Institutional Crisis and the Quest for Democratic Governance, ed. Valerie Sperling (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), 193-212.

10. See Peter H. Solomon Jr. and Todd S. Foglesong, Courts and Transition in Russia: The Challenge of Judicial Reform (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000).

11. Peter H. Solomon Jr., 'Threats of Judicial Counterreform in Putin's Russia," Democratizatsiya 13, no. 3 (Summer 2005): 325^15. Solomon points out that these efforts run against the grain of efforts by Putin and by Yeltsin before him to improve the performance of the Russian courts.

12. Economist, June 28, 2003, 54.

13. Ibid.

14. Emil Danielyan, "Armenia," inNations in Transit2002, ed. Adrian Karatnycky, Alexander Motyl, and Amanda Schnetzer (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2002), 65.

15. Danielyan, "Armenia," 66.

16. State Department Human Rights Report, Armenia, 1998, at http://www.state .gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/1998/, accessed August 5, 2000.

17. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), "Caucasus Report," March 9, 2000.

18. ITAR-TASS, January 19, 2003.

19. Human Rights Watch Report, "Armenia," 1995, at 1995/WR95/HELSINKI-01.htm, accessed January 10, 2006.

20. Ibid.

21. Committee to Protect Journalists, "Armenia 2000: Country Report,", accessed June 18, 2001.

22., July 2, 2002.

23. Human Rights Watch, "Armenia: Mass Arrests before Runoff," Human Rights News, February 28, 2003,, accessed March 25,2003.

24. RFE/RL, "Armenia Report," March 22,2003.

25. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), "Republic of Armenia Presidential Election 19 February and 5 March 2003: Final Report," April 28,2003, documents/odihr/2003/04/1203_en.pdf, accessed March 25,2003.

26. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2005, Country Reports: Armenia,, accessed January 15,2006.

27. The U.S. Department of State asserts: 'The court system's independence is compromised by legislative, administrative and constitutional arrangements that in practice subjugate the judiciary to the executive branch of government." Moreover, the president has the authority to dismiss judges, except members of the Supreme Court or chairmen of judicial collegia." See U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001, Kazakhstan, 2001/eur/8275pf.htm, accessed March 22,2002.

28. Ibid.

29. Human Rights Watch, "Background: Kazakhstan's Post-Soviet Political Process, 1992-1997," Kazakhstan, 1999, Kazl099b-02.htm, accessed March 24, 2000.

30. "Democracy Is a Goal We Must Attain," Trud (Moscow), cited in Human Rights Watch, "Background: Kazakhstan's Post-Soviet Political Process, 1992-1997."

31. Nurbulat Masanov, "Political Elite of Kazakhstan: The Changes of Kazakhstani Political Elite during the Period of Sovereignty," International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research, l_00.htm, accessed June 15, 2005. See also IREX Media Sustainability Index, "Kazakhstan,", accessed July 19, 2005.

32. Aldar Kusainov, "Human Rights, Kazakhstan's Critical Choice,", January 13, 2003, 3-5.

33. Ibid., 4.

34. Human Rights Watch, "Violations of the Right to Freedom of Expression," Kazakhstan 1999, This section of the Human Rights Watch report contains considerable additional detail on the tactics used by Nazarbayev's government to squelch the press and on the effects of these tactics.

35. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001, Kazakhstan.

36. Ibid.

37. Human Rights Watch, "State Violations of the Rights to Assemble, to Form Organizations, and to Participate in Political Life," Kazakhstan 1999, reports/1999/kazakhstan/Kazl099b-05.htm, accessed August 8,2004.

38. Ibid.

39. Human Rights Watch, "Background: Kazakhstan's Post-Soviet Political Process, 1992-1997," Kazakhstan 1999, Kazl099b-02.htm, accessed March 24, 2000.

40. Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2005, "Country Reports: Kazakhstan,", accessed November 15, 2005.

41. Kyrgyz constitution, at Kyrgyzstan%20Constitution%20of%20the%20Kyrghyz%20Republic.asp, accessed January 20, 2006.

42. International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, "2001 Annual Report," at, accessed May 10, 2003.

43. Ibid. Similarly, in its 1999 Annual report, the Helsinki Federation stated that "the judiciary appeared to be both corrupt and dependent upon the executive branch."

44. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2005, Country Report: Kyrgyzstan.

45. European Commission, "Kyrgyzstan: Political Situation," comm/external_relations/kyrghyzstan/intro/, accessed July 21,2005.

46. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; 2001; World Press Freedom Review, Kyrgyzstan,, accessed July 15, 2005.

47. Ibid.

48. IREX Media Sustainability Index, Kyrgyzstan, 132.

49., "Promoting Media Freedom in Kyrgyzstan Proving More Difficult Than Originally Anticipated," November 9, 2005, 10905.shtml, accessed December 10,2005.

50. OSCE/ODIHR, "Final Report, Kyrgyz Republic 29 October 2000 Presidential Elections," 9.

51. Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 6,2000,5, translated in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, June 7, 2000.

52. "Eurasia Insight: Referendum Ratchets up Rancor in Kyrgyzstan—Political Analysts,", February 5,2003, www.eurasianet .org/departments/insight/ articles/eav020503_pr.shtml. Accessed March 10, 2003.

53. OSCE/ODIHR, "Final Report, Kyrgyz Republic 29 October 2000 Presidential Elections," 8,12,14.

54. RFE/RL, "Kyrgyzstan: Banned Parties Work to Compete in Elections," January 19,2000,, accessed April 14,2000.

55. OSCE/ODIHR, "Final Report, Kyrgyz Republic 29 October 2000 Presidential Elections."

56. The events of the Tulip Revolution are summarized in Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, "Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: A Timeline," March 25, 2005,, accessed May 10, 2005. They are analyzed in Martha Brill Olcott, "Kyrgyzstan's 'Tulip Revolution,'" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 28, 2005,, accessed May 10, 2005.

57. "Opponents to Kyrgyz President: Tackle Crime and Corruption or Resign," Eurasia Insight, April 18, 2006, eav041806.shtml, accessed June 5,2006.

58. Malaysia was formed in 1963 through the merger of Malaya with Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore, the last of which separated in 1965. The dominance of the UMNO in Malaya predated the formation of Malaysia.

59. "Malaysia," in Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2001-2002 (New York: Freedom House, 2002), 387-88.

60. U.S. State Department, "2001 Report on Malaysia's Human Rights," cited in Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, 388.

61. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, 389-90.

62. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2005, "Country Report: Malaysia,", accessed November 10,2005.

63. Ibid.

64. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2005, "Country Report: Venezuela,", accessed November 10, 2005.

65. Michael Coppedge, "Venezuela: Popular Sovereignty versus Liberal Democracy," Kellogg Institute Working Paper, no. 294, April 2004.

66. Alma Guillermoprieto, "Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela," New York Review of Books, October 6, 2005. The plan recalls a similar one by Franklin Roosevelt in the United States.

67. Freedom House, Freedom in World 2005, "Country Report: Venezuela."

68. Guillermoprieto, "Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela."

69. See Alma Guillermoprieto, "The Gambler," New York Review of Books, October 20, 2005.

70. For an effort to draw comparisons across these cases, see Michael McFaul, "Transitions from Postcommunism," Journal of Democracy 16, no. 3 (July 2005): 5-19.

71. See Edward Schatz, Modern Clan Politics: The Power of "Blood " in Kazakhstan and Beyond (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004).

72. Freedom House press release, December 20, 2004.

73. Economist, June 28, 2003, 28.