While much of the work on contemporary autocracy, and on the post-Soviet states, focuses on elite defection as the core challenge to regime stability, we highlight the potential for popular challenges in protest and elections. Work on the Russian opposition largely focused on support for the FFE (For Fair Elections) street protests that began in response to electoral falsification. This approach overlooks the importance of the vote protest that preceded the street actions and galvanized Russian society.
We show that electoral victories in electoral authoritarian regimes can mask significant changes in the mechanisms that maintain those victories. These changes can lead to seemingly rapid regime disintegration or authoritarian control. Thus, while the literature points to exogenous shocks or incumbent missteps as the source regime change, opposition innovation that challenges and alters the state’s equilibrium can also be a mechanism of systemic change. Most significantly, we show that electoral outcomes are not always reliable indicators of electoral authoritarian stability because those outcomes mask a constantly shifting set of electoral processes and mechanism for state control that can produce seemingly sudden and dramatic political change.
Navalny’s Gamesters: Protest, Opposition Innovation, and Authoritarian Stability in Russia. Russian Politics. 2016 Vol.1. No.4. P.347-371 (Regina Smyth & Irina Soboleva) [SSRN]
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Featured image: Eugeny Feldman. Navalny in Penza.