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Activating Democracy: Political Participation and the Fate of Regime Change in Russia and Indonesia

  • Lussier, Danielle Nicole
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2011
eScholarship - University of California
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What contributes to democracy's survival after initial elections? Scholarship on democratization and regime change suggests several factors conducive to democracy's survival, including higher levels of socioeconomic development, stronger parliaments and weaker presidents, and a history of independent statehood. These factors, however, do not explain the political trajectories of two of the world's largest countries--Russia and Indonesia. In both countries, democratizing systems replaced authoritarian regimes in the 1990s. Yet after almost a decade of reform, early democratic gains eroded in Russia, while they survived in Indonesia. According to existing theories of democratization, Russia's levels of socioeconomic modernization and its long history of independent statehood would lead one to predict a much higher level of democracy than exists twenty years after the fall of communism. Indonesia deviates from democratization theory at the other end of the spectrum--it is more democratic than its low levels of socioeconomic modernization and short post-colonial history of independent statehood would have predicted. This project analyzes the empirical puzzle presented by Russia's and Indonesia's experiences with democratization. Through a multi-level research design, I engage comparisons between the two countries, within each country over time, across sub-national units within each country, and between individuals. I find that these two cases' deviation from the global norm and divergence from each other can be explained by patterns of political participation and popular involvement in new political institutions. While Russians retreated from civic and political participation and remain wary of political institutions, Indonesians became accustomed to applying pressure on political elites and learned to use new democratic institutions to manage conflict and channel public preferences for governance. In particular, I find that variation in patterns of political participation in these two cases derives from engagement in civil society, a sense of political efficacy, and political trust. Individuals who engage in civil society, believe in their ability to influence political outcomes, and trust political institutions are more likely to become involved in non-voting forms of political participation, such as campaigning, political party development work, and protest activities. Sustained and ongoing political participation, particularly between electoral cycles, constrains elites in a manner that promotes clean and competitive elections and safeguards civil liberties, as has happened in post-Suharto Indonesia. In Russia, the absence of such engagement leaves political elites with more latitude to manipulate elections, constrict rights and freedoms, and repress real and imagined would-be oppositionists.


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