Coordination among Opposition Parties in Authoritarian Elections
Authoritarian rulers frequently use elections as an institutional mechanism to perpetuate their power. Yet sometimes this institution ceases to serve the intentions of its creators, becoming the source of challenges to dictatorial regimes, particularly when opposition parties for pre-electoral coalitions designed to minimize the incumbent’s chances of winning. Under what conditions do these pre-electoral coalitions emerge? I argue that when opposition parties form coalitions for presidential elections, they are agreeing to a distribution of offices whereby in the case of victory, one of them becomes president while the others receive cabinet portfolios. Yet the nature of the contract creates a commitment problem: because no party can be sure that whoever wins the presidency will abide by the agreement and distribute portfolios to others, each party has little incentive to join the coalition. The degree to which the commitment problem deters coalition formation depends on the powers of the presidency that parties expect to inherit and the likelihood that authoritarian incumbents will step down, allowing the opposition to come to power. The 2008 presidential elections in Zimbabwe illustrate these claims while a quantitative analysis of all presidential elections in non-democratic states from 1946 to 2002 provides a test of them. The evidence shows that the constitutional rules governing presidential power, while doing little to constrain the behavior of incumbents in dictatorial regimes, play a role in conditioning the future expectations and behavior of opposition parties and candidates.