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Democracy after Secession?: Institutions and External Threats to the Political Regime in De Facto Abkhazia David Szakonyi Columbia University ASCN Annual.

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Presentation on theme: "Democracy after Secession?: Institutions and External Threats to the Political Regime in De Facto Abkhazia David Szakonyi Columbia University ASCN Annual."— Presentation transcript:

1 Democracy after Secession?: Institutions and External Threats to the Political Regime in De Facto Abkhazia David Szakonyi Columbia University ASCN Annual Conference June 24-25, 2011

2 Research Specifics Joint project with Oleh Protsyk, Senior Research Associate, ECMI Abkhazia Moldova Draws upon research conducted from 2007-2011 70 in-country interviews Primary and secondary source analysis Theoretical development and preliminary findings 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

3 Research Questions How do de facto independent states manage political development and ethnic diversity? How credible are claims that democratization is occurring in unrecognized regions? What explains conflicting interpretations of democratic progress in Abkhazia? 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

4 Existing Literature: First Generation Information scarcity and political upheaval of late 1990s and early 2000s Negative assessments of level of democratization Deficient political, economic, and judicial development (Lynch 2002) Numerous impediments to state-building process in de facto states (Kolsto 2006) Emergent state capacity due to ethnic conflict, but only relative to neighbors (King 2001) 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

5 Existing Literature: Second Generation Optimistic portrayals based on past decade of development ( Popescu 2008) Dual incentives to democratize (Caspersen 2010, 2011; Broers 2005) External: International norms and drive towards independence Internal: Preserve popular legitimacy, prevent emigration, and allow for further military mobilization Ethnic democracy and imitation democratic statehood Declining need for recognition leads to deteriorating democracy 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

6 Deficiencies in Current Approaches Strong assumptions about elite preferences through period of de facto independence as well as reliance on official statements and rhetoric Little to no discussion of institutions and their effect on elite and mass behavior Selective interpretation of the effect of the international environment 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

7 Argument External environment (measured by level of security threat) profoundly influenced both elite preferences for and choices of initial institutions in the post-conflict period. The specific institutions chosen purposively constrained democratizing tendencies, such as the development of political parties and integration of ethnic minorities. As the security threat diminished following the August war, Abkhaz elites undertook efforts to change institutions to fit new governance reality. 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

8 Formulating Elite Preferences Perceived security threat can help produce consensus among elites for strong, consolidated structures (Fendius- Elman 2004) Increased bargaining position for hardliners Cloak self-interested proposals in impartial language 1.Preserve the new states right to self-determination (not synonymous with independence) 2.Maximize hold on power against challenges from rival groups, including other ethnic minorities 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

9 Initial Choices of Institutions Centralized power structures for national unity Dominant executive branch Single-member district electoral rules Restrictive laws covering political parties and organizations Informal regulation governing minority participation Influence of Soviet legacy and post-conflict resource scarcity Constitution passed in 1995; independence clause in 1999 Defeat of U.S. / Netherlands version 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

10 Consequences of Constitution-Making: Weak Political Party Development Weak, election-centered coalitions of individual candidates with few ideological commitments and connections with identifiable constituencies Use of administrative resources to skew the competition Regulatory and law enforcement agencies Undermining ability of regime opponents to be effective in political process through use of rhetoric devices Accusation of betrayal of nation Problem of succession and executive turnover 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

11 Consequences of Constitution-Making: Stunted Ethnic Integration Effective management of ethnic cleavages through gentlemans agreement and quotas Disproportionately skewed in favor of Abkhaz elites Paramount position for clientelism and informal networks in distributing public goods and creating economic opportunities Cooptation by ruling authorities 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

12 Example of the Peoples Assembly Highly contested – averaged roughly 70% for Abkhaz, 30% for non-Abkhaz in the three parliaments of 1996, 2001, and 2007 2007 – 3 Russian, 3 Armenian, 2 Georgians, and 2 Turks (one Georgian died) Gentlemans Agreement and geographic enclaves 10 districts that saw ethnic minority candidates, 6 of these ethnic minorities were at least 50% of the candidates, 9 districts saw ethnic minorities being elected. 17/35 Runoffs (roughly 50%), seats contested by ethnic minorities, 3/10 in ethnic districts saw runoffs (less competitive)

13 Diminished Threat, Altered Institutions Russia-Georgia War of 2008 and arrival of security guarantees and military hardware Partial recognition of independence Changes to institutional set-up 2009: Law on Political Parties 2011: Deliberation over switch to proportional representation Growing status and consolidation of United Abkhazia Influence of Russia on internal development: diffusion 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

14 Policy Relevance International engagement, security environment and the push towards democratization Democracy promotion efforts Countering Russian influence Providing security guarantees Effect of internal dynamics on potential approaches to conflict resolution 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

15 Summary Remarks and Further Questions External security environment as key explanatory variable: mechanism runs through preferences for specific institutions Reappraisal of evaluations of democracy within Abkhazia How does the death of Sergei Bagapsh affect the internal balancing of elite groups within Abkhazia? Do the histories of other cases of de facto independence fit this framework? How can we better map out variation in the evidence available? 6/25/11 Szakonyi - ASCN Conference

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