Out of the Shadows: Authoritarian Regimes, Flawed Elections and International Legitimation

Stream: Panel 20 - Comparative Politics: Authoritarian Politics in the Modern World 
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm
Speaker(s): Lee Morgenbesser

Authoritarian regimes have developed a new strategy to overcome the high costs of either fully complying or not complying with the international norm of external election observation. This paper explains how many dictators and dominant parties deploy shadow election observation groups over professional observation groups as part of a mock compliance strategy. By supplanting the identity of the group judging elections and displacing the normative standard being applied, authoritarian regimes have been able to gain international legitimation via flawed elections. This argument is evidenced using case studies of parliamentary and presidential elections in Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Egypt, which show that legitimation driven by shadow observation groups has become a globally applied strategy. The conclusion offers four policy proscriptions for how professional observation groups and Western states should respond to the deployment of these groups by authoritarian regimes.