An apparent paradox of authoritarian elections prevails. While some researchers have argued that multi-party elections in dictatorships may destabilize and sometimes even democratize the regime, others have found that authoritarian multi-party elections contribute to regime stability. This dissertation argues that we should not accept this apparent paradox but instead tune in on the capacities of the authoritarian regime. The dissertation theorizes how authoritarian capacities affect electoral dynamics by enabling electoral strategies aimed at affecting choices made by internal regime elites, opposition candidates, and citizens over whether to support or challenge the rulers. The greater the administrative capacity or economic control an autocrat has at his disposal, the more likely elections are to be regime stabilizing. Where administrative capacity and economic control are limited, autocrats may rely on their coercive apparatus to ensure short-term survival. The claims are tested through cross-national, quantitative analyses and in studies of authoritarian multi-party elections in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe. The dissertation finds that administrative capacity and control over the economy condition the effect of elections on regime stability. No general effect of coercive capacity is found, although the case studies show that it did indeed affect electoral dynamics in Zimbabwe in 2008 and 2013. The effect of authoritarian elections is conditional upon the capacities of the ruler. Thus, authoritarian capacities help us understand the seemingly paradoxical effect of authoritarian elections and hold the promise to shed light on other aspects of authoritarian regime dynamics.
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