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Regime Cycles: Democracy, Autocracy, and Revolution in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Henry E. Hale
George Washington University
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Research on regime change has often wound up chasing events in the post-Soviet world because it has frequently assumed that regime change, if not simple instability, implies a trajectory toward a regime-type endpoint like democracy or autocracy. A supplemental approach recognizes that regime change can be cyclic, not just progressive, regressive, or random. In fact, regime cycles are much of what we see in the postcommunist world, where some states have oscillated from autocracy toward greater democracy, then back toward more autocracy, and, with recent “colored revolutions,” toward greater democracy again. An institutional logic of elite collective action, focusing on the effects of patronalpresidentialism, is shown to be useful in understanding such cyclic dynamics, explaining why “revolutions” occurred between 2003 and 2005 in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan but not in countries like Russia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2005

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19 Shvetsova (fn. 17) coined this term.

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23 Stephen E. Hanson, “Instrumental Democracy: The End of Ideology and the Decline of Russian Political Parties,” in Hesli and Reisinger (fn. 17).

24 The core logic was initially developed with reference to the Russian case and to certain of the theories cited above. Thus to some extent the analysis of the other post-Soviet cases does constitute a test. For present purposes, however, the case narratives that follow are presented not as an explicit test but as useful illustrations of the theory's potential. This will hopefully spawn further research and more precise and thorough testing than is possible in the scope of a journal article.

25 On the origins of this sort of clientelism in the former USSR and in other countries with legacies of patrimonial communism, see Kitschelt et al. (fn. 16).

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27 As counted throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s.

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33 Johnson (fn. 30).

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35 According to an August 20–24, 1999, nationwide survey by the VTsIOM agency, reported in Russian Election Watch 2, no. 2 (September 1999), 1, gram=CORE$ctype=paper&item_id=276 (last accessed February 19, 2006).

36 Hale (fn. 29, 2004a).

37 On these elections, see Colton, Timothy J. and McFaul, Michael, Popular Choice and Managed Democracy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2003)Google Scholar; Hale (fn. 29, 2004a); and Shvetsova (fn. 17).

38 Hale (fn. 29, 2004b).

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40 This paragraph draws on Cornell, Svante E., “Democratization Falters in Azerbaijan,” Journal of Democracy 12 (April 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jean-Christophe Peuch, “Azerbaijan: Aliev's Withdrawal Marks End of Political Era,” RFE/RL News & Analysis, October 3, 2003, (last accessed February 19, 2006); “Opposition Gains Confidence as Azerbaijan's Presidential Election Approaches,” EurasiaNet, October 6, 2003Google Scholar, (last accessed February 19, 2006); and Rasizade, Alec, “Azerbaijan after Heydar Aliev,” Nationalities Papers 32 (March 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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45 Some of the best such arguments include Darden (fn. 44); Levitsky and Way (fn. 4); Way (fn. 42). An exception is Kuzio, Taras, “The 2002 Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine: Democratization or Authoritarianism,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 19 (June 2003)Google Scholar.

46 As of the start of 2004, some 80 percent of citizens did not want Kuchma to continue as president. See Vydrin, Dmitry and Rozhkova, Irina, V'Ozhidanii Geroia: Yezhenedel'nik Goda Peremen (While awaiting a hero: A weekly of the year of changes) (Kharkiv: Kankom, 2005), 19Google Scholar.

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48 Vydrin and Rozhkova (fn. 46), 193–94, 200, 220, 257.

49 Ibid., 212.

50 Kuzio (fn. 45).

51 See Serhii Leshchenko, “Petro Poroshenko v Inter'eri Kartyn i Kartynok,” Ukraiins'ka Pravda,, January 11, 2005, 19:36.

52 Viacheslav Nikonov, “‘Oranzhevaia’ Revoliutsiia v Kontekste Zhanra,” in Pogrebinsky (fn. 43), 100; author interview with Pogrebinsky, Kyiv, August 12, 2005; author interview with Dmitry Vydrin, Kyiv, August 12, 2005.

53 Pogrebinsky (fn. 43), 116. Also author interview with Pogrebinsky (fn. 52); Vydrin and Rozhkova (fn. 46), 227; author interview with Vydrin (fn. 52).

54 Vydrin and Rozhkova (fn. 46), 387; Yanevsky, Daniil, Khronika “Oranzhevoi”Revoliutsii (Chronicle of the “Orange” Revolution) (Kharkiv: Folio, 2005), 76Google Scholar.

55 Nikonov (fn. 52), 100.

56 Kuzio, Taras, “Yushchenko Victory to Speed Up Ukraine's Democratization and Europeanization,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, December 17, 2004; Yanevsky (fn. 54)Google Scholar.

57 Dominique Arel has powerfully argued that the regional differences at work in the Orange Revolution most fundamentally reflect differences in national identity. See Arel, “Ukraina Vybyraet Zapad, No Ne Bez Vostoka,” Pro et Contra (July-August 2005); an English-language version, “The Orange Revolution: Analysis and Implications of the 2004 Presidential Election in Ukraine,” February 25, 2005, is available at (last accessed February 20, 2006).

58 Aleksandr Litvinenko, “‘Oranzhevaia Revoliutsiia: Prichiny, Kharakter i Rezultaty,” in Pogrebin-sky (fn. 43), 13; Yanevsky (fn. 54), 58, 64.

59 Author interview with Pogrebinsky (fn. 52).

60 Table of official election results in Central Election Commission of Ukraine, Vybory Prezydenta Ukraiiny 2004 Roku: Elektoral'na Statystyka (Elections for the president of Ukraine 2004: Electoral statistics) (Kyiv: Central Election Commission, 2005), 496–97Google Scholar.

61 Maksim Strikha, “Ukrainskie Vybory: Do i Posle,” in Pogrebinsky (fn. 43), 155. Exit poll results can be found in Vydrin and Rozhkova (fn. 46), 391.

62 Slaboshpyts'kyi, Mykhailo, Peizazh dlia Pomaranchevoii Revoliutsii (A landscape for the Orange Revolution) (Kyiv: Yaroslaviv Val, 2005), 84, 8688Google Scholar.

63 Ibid., 86–88; Yanevsky (fn. 54), 55–56.

64 Kyiv State Rada, Rishennia 733/2143, “Pro Zahostrennia Suspil'no-Politychnoi Sytuatsii v Misti Kyevi, Iaka Sklalas'ia Pislia Proholoshennia Tsentral'noiu Vyborchoiu Komisieiu Rezultativ Povtor-noho Holosuvannia po Vyborakh Prezydenta Ukraiiny,” November 22, 2004, reprinted in Kiev State Administration, Potnarancheva Revoliutsiia i Kyiivs'ka Vlada: Pohliad Kriz' Pryztnu Faktiv (The Orange Revolution and Kyivan power: A look through the prism of the facts) (Kyiv: Kyiv State Administration, 2005), 45Google Scholar; Yanevsky (fn. 54), 97.

65 Kyiv State Administration, Rozporiadzhennia no. 2132, “Pro Zakhody Shchodo Zabezpechen-nia Hromads'koho Poriadku v Stolytsi Ukraiiny—Misti-Heroi Kyevi,” November 24, 2004, reprinted in Kiev State Administration (fn. 64), 9–11; author interview with Oleksandr Petik, head of the Kyiv city administration's main directorate for internal politics, August 11, 2005; Slaboshpyts'kyi (fn. 62), 88–89.

66 Author interview with Petik (fn. 65); author interview with Pogrebinsky (fn. 52); Yanevsky (fn. 54), 82, 88.

67 Kyiv State Administration, Rozporiadzhennia no. 2132, in Kyiv State Administration (fn. 64); author interview with Petik (fn. 65).

68 Arel (fn. 57); Kuzio, Taras, “Did Ukraine's Security Service Really Prevent Bloodshed During the Orange Revolution,” Eurasian Daily Monitor, January 24, 2005Google Scholar.

69 Author interview with Petik (fn. 65).

70 RFE/RL Newsline, April 11, 2002.

71 Fairbanks, Charles H. Jr, “Georgia's Rose Revolution,” Journal of Democracy 15 (April 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

72 RFE/RL Newsline, February 11, 2005. On the revolution and reconsolidation, see also Georgi Derl-ugian, “Georgia's Return of the King,” Working Paper no. 22, Program on New Approaches to Russian Security (Washington, D.C.: csis, 2004), pdf (last accessed February 20, 2006); and Fairbanks (fn. 71), who notes that Saakashvili has effectively replaced Georgia's “superpresidential” constitution with a stronger “hyperpresidential” one.

73 RFE/RL Newsline, February 28, 2005; Aaron Rhodes, “Akaev's Acrid Legacy,” Transitions Online, February 23, 2005,; TOL, “A Second Round Beckons,” Transitions Online, February 28, 2005; Erica Marat, “Mass Protests, Little Change after Kyrgyz Parliamentary Runoff,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 15, 2005.

74 Nur Omarov, cited in Kabar (Kyrgyzstan),, June 30, 2005, 09:40.

75 RFE/RL Newsline, March 16, 2005; RFE/RL Newsline, March 22, 2005; “Kurmanbek Bakiyev becomes Kyrgyz Prime Minister and Acting President,” Times of Central Asia, March 25, 2005, 01:40, http://; Erica Marat, “Kyrgyz Crisis Reaches Bishkek—Rumors Suggest Akayev Has Fled Country,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 21, 2005.

76 RFE/RL Newsline, July 12, 2005.

77 Kurmanbek Bakiev, “Kurmanbek Bakiev,” interview, Gazeta.Kg (Kyrgyzstan), June 28, 2005,21:06.

78 While the author was an observer for the OSCE in the Kyrgyzstan presidential election, the views expressed in this paper are those of the author only and not necessarily those of the OSCE. The OSCE final report on the election can be found at en.pdf (last accessed February 19, 2006).

79 Liz Fuller, “Democracy or Oligarchy?” RFE/RL Newsline, v.l, no.122, pt. I, September 22, 1997.

80 Paul Goble, “Why Ter-Petrossyan Fell,” End Note, RFE/RL Newsline, February 6, 1998; Emil Danielyan, “Armenian President's Resignation Likely to Cause Policy Changes,” RFE/RL Newsline, February 5, 1998; RFE/RL Newsline, November 3, 1997.

81 This case shows that the elite contestation phase does not necessarily play out in the electoral arena.

82 On the Tajikistan election, see Zafar Abdullaev and Kambiz Arman, “To the Rulers, Víctory,” Transitions Online, February 28, 2005; and the OSCE'S final report, available at documents/html/pdftohtmi/14852_en.pdf.html (last accessed February 19, 2006).

83 TOL, “Sidelining the Opposition,” Transitions Online, February 26, 2005.

84 On Rakhmonov's perceived popularity, see Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2004, (last accessed February 20, 2006).

85 Thus, while nearly all unpopular leaders in Eurasia's patronal presidential countries attempted repressive behavior in order to win elections, we see that they were successful in doing so (maintaining the necessary elite loyalty) only when they were not lame ducks or when the chosen successor was broadly popular in his own right (for example, Putin in Russia).

86 Christensen, Rakhimkulov, and Wise (fn. 22).

87 Not just any dispersion of power will have a long-run democratizing effect, of course, since a badly designed division of authority or a muddling of authority could produce instability and a reversion to autocracy; see Paul D'Anieri, “What Has Changed in Ukrainian Politics? Assessing the Implications of the Orange Revolution,” Problems of Post-Communism 52 (September-October 2005). In Ukraine, President Yushchenko has hinted that he would like to alter the deal struck in late 2004, and many of his present and former associates have made even stronger statements to this effect, although for now elites generally expect power to be divided in the future. As D'Anieri points out, however, it is unclear at the time of this writing exactly how power will be divided. The case of Moldova's parliamentary system represents a sort of middle-ground case: its parliament elects the president. This gives the opposition greater opportunity to gain a stake in power and hence increases scope for contestation: the incumbent party lost the first parliamentary election under these rules in 2001 and the new incumbent party, seeking reelection in 2005, had to strike a deal with members of another party to stay in power. But once installed, the president has a great deal of authority to exercise power and constrain opposition, much like the Westminster system whose potentially antidemocratic effects are ably described by Horowitz, in Diamond and Plattner (fn. 13). Kyrgyzstan is presently in something of a limbo, with Bakiev having promised a diminution of presidential authority in favor of the prime minister (Kulov), but so far without this being institutionalized in an amended constitution. On these cases and issues, see Henry E. Hale, “How the Mighty Fall: The Colored Revolutions and Eurasia's Democratic Prospects” (Paper presented at the 11th annual world convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, New York City, March 23–25, 2006).

88 Rustow, Dankwart, “Transitions to Democracy: Towards a Dynamic Model,” Comparative Politics 2 (April 1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On postcommunist cases, see Frye, Timothy, “A Politics of Institutional Choice: Post-Communist Presidencies,” Comparative Political Studies 30 (October 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McFaul (fn. 1).

89 I explore some of the latter issues in Hale (fn. 87).

90 On Russia, see Hale, Henry E., Why Not Parties in Russia? Democracy, Federalism, and the State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)Google ScholarPubMed.

91 On how parties (among other things) can stem elite defection, see Geddes, Barbara, “What Do We Know about Democratization after Twenty Years?” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (June 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Way, Lucan A., “Authoritarian State-Building and the Sources of Regime Competitiveness in the Fourth Wave: The Cases of Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine,” World Politics 57 (January 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

92 That economic liberalization and diversification might dampen “consolidation” phases even in countries with patrimonial communist legacies is suggested in Junisbai, Barbara and Junisbai, Azamat, “The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan: A Case Study in Economic Liberalization, Intraelite Cleavage, and Political Opposition,” Demokratizatsiya 13 (Summer 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

93 On how clientelism might decline in a country, see Kitschelt and Wilkinson (fn. 17).