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The Strength to Concede: Ruling Parties and Democratization in Developmental Asia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2013

Dan Slater
University of Chicago
Joseph Wong
University of Toronto


Authoritarian ruling parties are expected to be exceptionally resistant to democratization. Yet some of the strongest authoritarian parties in the world have not resisted democratization, but have embraced it. This is because their raison d'etre is to continue ruling, not necessarily to remain authoritarian. Democratization requires that ruling parties hold free and fair elections, but not that they lose them. Authoritarian ruling parties can thus be incentivized to concede democratization from a position of exceptional strength as well as extreme weakness. This “conceding-to-thrive” scenario is most likely to unfold when regimes (1) possess substantial antecedent political strengths and resource advantages, (2) suffer ominous setbacks signaling that they have passed their apex of domination, and (3) pursue new legitimation strategies to arrest their incipient decline. We illustrate this heretofore neglected alternative democratization pathway through a comparative-historical analysis of three Asian developmental states where ruling parties have democratized from varying positions of considerable strength: Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia. We then consider the implications of our analysis for three “candidate cases” in developmental Asia where ruling parties have not yet conceded democratization despite being well-positioned to thrive were they to do so: Singapore, Malaysia, and the world's most populous dictatorship, China.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

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