Bound to Rule: Party Institutions and Regime Trajectories in Malaysia and the Philippines

By Brownlee, Jason | Journal of East Asian Studies, January-April 2008 | Go to article overview

Bound to Rule: Party Institutions and Regime Trajectories in Malaysia and the Philippines


Brownlee, Jason, Journal of East Asian Studies


This article revisits the electoral emphasis of hybrid regime studies, arguing instead that the impact of elections is structured by variations in prior political institutions, particularly the dismantlement or maintenance of a ruling party. Duration tests on 136 regimes indicate that ruling parties reduce the chance of regime collapse, while "electoral autocracy" has no significant effect. A paired comparison of Malaysia and the Philippines then shows how variations in party institutions propelled divergent courses of authoritarian dominance and democratization. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Malaysia's ruling party (UMNO) bound together otherwise fractious leaders, twice deflecting potent electoral challenges. By contrast, when Ferdinand Marcos abandoned the Nacionalista Party after 1972, he fueled the movement that would subsequently oust him. The efficacy of opposition parties Semangat '46 and United Nationalist Democratic Opposition (UNIDO) was thus heavily imbricated with the institutions of the regimes they challenged and less contingent on short-term electoral politics.

KEYWORDS: democratization, democracy, authoritarianism, autocracy, dictatorship, parties, institutions, elections, regime change, elites

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The third wave of democratization left burgeoning democracies and resilient dictatorships in its wake. Scholarly response has been commensurately diverse, with many comparativists offering hybrid regime typologies that highlight the electoral features of twenty-first century autocracies. With an eye toward explaining the dynamics of why some regimes weathered the third wave while others fell, this article evaluates the analytic utility of hybrid regimes alongside alternative explanations. Using a cross-national dataset and intraregional paired comparison, I assess the impact of electoral practices and other institutional variables on regime survival. The collected evidence points away from a proximate focus on elections, opposition protest, and elite behavior at the eve of regime breakdown. Logistic regression tests of 136 regimes during 1975-2000 reveal no significant statistical impact of electoral autocracy on regime survival. Regime longevity depends instead on the profile of incumbent elites and the organizations through which they rule; regimes based on a single party provide the most resilient form of authoritarianism--regardless of whether they established multiparty elections and legislatures.

These results confirm the findings of Barbara Geddes but also pose new questions. (1) If regime types are so influential, what explains the variation between ostensibly weaker personalistic regimes and their more robust party-based counterparts? Related, at what point and through what processes do these regimes collapse or continue? Geddes's typology conceives regime types as an aggregate reflection of elite preferences and behavior. The result is a proximate narrative of change, much like those of her forerunners, in which rulers either initiate the transition or respond defensively to an impending crisis. Accordingly, she does not account for how institutions affect elite preferences years before the regime appears under strain or why such institutional effects may drive elites to enlist with otherwise beleaguered opposition movements. The contrasting experiences of Malaysia and the Philippines illuminate these issues and demonstrate the structural influence of institutions at ameliorating or exacerbating elite conflict.

The last quarter of the twentieth century was deemed a turbulent period for nondemocratic rulers. But, as reflected in the careers of Mahathir Mohamad and Ferdinand Marcos, not all autocrats fared poorly. During twenty-two years in power, Mahathir operated through his country's founding party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Malaysia thus presents a classic single-party regime, whose durability comports with the research of Geddes and additional statistical analysis presented in this article. …

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