Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Despite the presence of open elections and contestable political offices, opposition parties in electoral authoritarian regimes face barriers – formal and informal – that prevent them from attaining de facto power. Yet, these parties still decide to spend the time, money, and effort to run candidates in unfair elections. This dissertation seeks to uncover the reasons that opposition parties decide to compete in such an uncompetitive environment, and what sustains opposition parties though cycles of defeat. It proposes that opposition parties compete not for the purposes of unseating the ruling party, but rather for controlling their own local affairs away from interference on the part of an autocratic regime. Opposition parties have a natural affinity with foreign investors, who also wish to do business without dealing with arbitrary government taxes and regulations.

However, while the dissertation does find a relation between foreign direct investment and opposition party strength in the parliament, this relationship runs in the opposite direction than what the theory proposes. Case studies of three countries reveal that opposition parties reflect ethnic divisions within each country and that these ethnic parties serve as mechanisms for distributing patronage goods to their co-ethnics. A transition away from one-party rule did not bring democracy or even a recalcitrant elite reluctantly getting away with as little liberalization as possible while still holding power, but instead, a protracted conflict fought in the electoral arena over limited patronage opportunities, with ethnicity used to form the division between in- and out-groups. The dissertation concludes that one possible way out of ethnic competition is by increasing economic opportunities for the citizenry so that they need not rely on ethnically based political machines to provide for their material security.

Committee Chair

Ray, Leonard