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Political Science in Europe

Why Dictators Veto: Legislation, Legitimacy and Control in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Comparative Politics
Decision Making
Philipp Köker
Universität Hannover
Philipp Köker
Universität Hannover

Why do dictators still use their legislative veto power? Despite exerting near complete control over political processes, authoritarian leaders still use their prerogative every so often to block or amend bills passed by the legislature. The paper at hand investigates this paradox and argues that it cannot be accounted for by existing explanations of presidential activism. Rather, it proposes that authoritarian presidents devolve decision-making power in selected policy areas to legislatures for power-sharing and co-optation purposes. Vetoes occur when legislators misinterpret presidential preferences and overstep constraints set by the president and/or when legislation threatens the output legitimacy of the regime. Furthermore, veto use decreases when the degree of authoritarianism increases. Using original data on legislative output and presidential vetoes in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia the paper analyzes patterns and individual instances of veto use over the last 20 years. The empirical test generally confirms the arguments as presidents vetoed less as regimes became more authoritarian and remaining vetoes can be accounted for by the theoretical model. In addition, the analysis highlights the potential use of vetoes as efforts to mimic democracy, particularly to international audiences. The findings shed new light on the working of authoritarian regimes contribute to the growing literature on authoritarian legislatures and analysis of presidential powers beyond established democracies.
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