Associate Professor, Comparative Politics
School of Government and International Relations
Repression in Southeast Asia: Theory, Practice and Implications
This new book project seeks to account for the different practices of repression across Southeast Asia. Given that autocratic regimes are routinely challenged by civil society groups, opposition parties and engaged citizens throughout the region, what explains the significant variation we observe in the target, scope and severity of repression.
"Personalist Dictatorships and Measurement Validity"
This paper questions how authoritarian regime datasets classify (and do not classify) personalist dictatorships. Despite widespread use of these cross-sectional time-series tools in comparative politics, very little attention has been paid to the quality of the judgments contained within them. This paper offers a closer examination and finds basic problems concerning well-established standards of measurement validity. A particular concern is the systemization, operationalization and scoring procedures employed, which struggle to meaningfully capture the corresponding concept of personalist dictatorship. The paper concludes by questioning the reliability of empirical inferences based on these datasets, including whether personalist dictatorships will undergo democratization, commit repression and initiate war.
"Parliaments under Fire: Conceptualizing and Operationalizing Legislative Closure" (with Lindsay Benstead, Margaret Hanson, Allison Hartnett, Ben Noble, Paul Schuler, Matthew Wilson, Josef Woldense)
Why do political leaders close down legislatures? In spite of the recent work on legislatures in non democracies, we know little about when, how, and why these bodies’ activities are disrupted. This paper – written by members of the ‘Parliaments Under Fire’ project – evaluates the existing cross-national data available on closure episodes, noting the frequent discrepancies in coding decisions between two popular datasets: Democracy and Dictatorship (Cheibub, Gandhi & Vreeland 2010) and V-Dem (Coppedge et al. 2020). Country-case studies of closures highlight both the nature of these discrepancies, as well as issues of conceptualization and operationalization of ‘closure’. The paper proposes a classification tree of closure types to help order the variety and complexity of closure episodes, thereby contributing to the literatures on authoritarianism and legislatures.
"On the Move: Dictators, Security and Capital Relocations" (with Carl Henrik Knutsen and Tore Wig)
Why do some countries make the costly move to relocate their capital city? Existing research offers four general explanations for this momentous action: administrative functionality, economic development, environmental degradation, and national integration. Using an original dataset on all capital relocations in 202 polities across the world from 1789 to 2020, our analysis shows that dictatorships are much more likely to relocate their capitals than democracies. This relationship is both strong and robust to accounting for various other factors that supposedly explain capital relocations. We offer a less sanguine theoretical argument to explain this pattern: capital relocations offer autocratic leaders a way to mitigate security threats such as coups, popular protests, and foreign intervention. We test these empirical implications on our global dataset, using different estimators and model specifications. Using different measurement to capture risk of regime breakdown in autocracies, we also find evidence suggesting that autocracies are more likely to relocate their capitals when the risk of breakdown is high. When running subnational analyses, we find little evidence that economic rationales are influencing capital moves in dictatorships, but we do find some evidence, in line with our argument, that capitals are relocated to smaller cities and farther away from borders with neighbouring countries. While other causal processes may be consistent with our findings, we submit that the most plausible interpretation of these findings is that autocratic regimes relocate capitals mainly for reasons of mitigating different types of threats to their own rule.
"The Singapore Model of Authoritarianism" (with Milan Svolik)
We propose a novel explanation for the emergence, persistence, and decline of dominant parties. We develop a model in which a political party’s temporary electoral advantage results in a self-sustaining cycle of quality-based incumbency advantage. In equilibrium, i) the dominant party recruits candidates of higher quality than its competitors, ii) highest quality candidates aspire to join the dominant party because it is more likely to win elections, iii) voters correctly anticipate the dominant party’s quality advantage and re-elect it. We evaluate this framework by combining a range of qualitative and quantitative evidence from Singapore. Using original data on all candidates for political office since independence, we show that the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) indeed fields more competent candidates than its competitors. Using survey experimental data, we show that Singaporeans value competence and associate it with the PAP, and that when Singaporeans vote for the PAP, they are in effect trading-off democracy for competent governance. Our analysis clarifies why dominant parties are most vulnerable to defectors from their own ranks, why the opposition in dominant party regimes tends to be more ideological and fragmented, and why the demise of dominant parties requires a prolonged period of economic decline.
"Benevolent Dictatorships" (with Carl Henrik Knutsen)
"Autocratic Assassins" (with Sheena Greitens and Tore Wig)