Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis

By Ming Sing | Go to book overview
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Hong Kong’s democratization

Outcome of bargaining among multiple actors

Another dominant approach: an elite-centered transition perspective
The failure of modernization theory to explain Hong Kong’s anomalous experience suggests the need to learn from an alternative approach: the elite-centered transition theory. Since the 1980s, hundreds of studies have explained democratization using this alternative approach, making it another dominant perspective in the field (Anderson, 1999:1-13; Di Palma, 1990; Geddes, 1999:119; Higley and Gunther, 1992; Shin, 1994). Champions of the elite-centered transition approach contend that structural factors including socio-economic development do not determine whether democratic transition will occur. Before and during democratic transitions, complex interaction between different groups and individuals with different and changing preferences creates an indeterminacy, which no simple and fixed structural variables can explain (Przeworski, 1986).Among the multiple actors involved, the governing elites’ choices count most. Their choices during the turbulent transition process and the macro, historical-structural variables, are taken respectively as the short-run and long-run conditions for the collapse of authoritarian regimes and the emergence of democracy. Different scholars have paid different emphasis to the short-run and long-run conditions. In O’Donnell and his collaborators’ project (Pt IV, 1986:3-5), which has been taken as the hallmark work of the approach, they argued that because of the breakdowns of norms, “insufficient information, hurried and audacious choices, confusion about motives and interest, plasticity, and even indefinition of political identities, there is a high degree of indeterminacy during the transitions. Hence, they paid closer attention to the short-run political factors of the calculations and choices of governing elites (ibid.: 4-5). Their project has also developed two widely embraced generalizations in the transition approach:
1 There is no transition whose beginning is not the consequence - direct or indirect - of important divisions within the authoritarian regime itself (O’Donnell and Schmitter, 1986:19).

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