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Institutional Tension and Critical Junctures in Hybrid Regimes

Alexander Schmotz
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Alexander Schmotz
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper deals presents a theoretical framework for the analysis of regime crisis and change in hybrid regimes. In spite of comparativists’ recent interest in the grey zone between autocracy and democracy, arguments about the transitional dynamics of Hybrid Regimes remain scattered. Why and how do Hybrid Regimes transform into democracies or autocracies? Why do they remain stable on other occasions? A two-dimensional concept of Hybrid Regimes is introduced, building on the dimensions of access to and exercise of political power. I argue that the simultaneity of democratic and autocratic institutional features in Hybrid Regimes, if not balanced carefully, may present an inherent source of institutional tension. Institutional tension increases the likelihood and frequency of critical junctures. In critical junctures, actors face lessened structural constraint and are effectively confronted with choices between viable institutional alternatives – alternatives as far reaching as full-scale regime change. Actors’ decisions significantly gain momentum. Whereas institutional tension can account for the emergence of critical junctures, contingent decisions within critical junctures explain their outcome: democratization, autocratization, or re-equilibration. Institutional tension is hence hypothesized to have a symmetric effect on both, the democratization and autocratization of hybrid regimes. The perception of critical junctures as an explanandum – not an explanans – turns historical institutionalism ‘upside down’ and contributes to the attenuation of its often criticized structural bias.