In this podcast, Dan Slater from the University of Chicago looks at ruling parties and democratisation in developmental Asia. Looking at six countries across the region, he outlines why some authoritarian states have conceded to democracy and why others haven’t.
Authoritarian ruling parties are expected to be exceptionally resistant to democratisation. Yet some of the strongest authoritarian parties in the world have not resisted democratisation, but have embraced it. This is because their raison d'etre is to continue ruling, not necessarily to remain authoritarian.
Democratisation requires that ruling parties hold free and fair elections, but not that they lose them. Authoritarian ruling parties are thus more likely to democratise from within than leading theories suggest, because they can be incentivised to concede democratisation from a position of exceptional strength as well as extreme weakness.
This "conceding-to-thrive" scenario is most likely when regimes (1) possess substantial antecedent political strengths and resource advantages, (2) suffer ominous setbacks signalling that they have passed their apex of domination, and (3) embrace new legitimation strategies to arrest their incipient decline.
Slater illustrates this previously neglected alternative pathway to democracy through a comparative-historical analysis of three Asian developmental states where ruling parties have democratised from varying positions of strength (Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia). He then extends his analysis to three "candidate cases" in developmental Asia where ruling parties have not yet conceded to democracy despite appearing well-positioned to thrive were they to do so (Singapore, Malaysia, and China).