Local Elections in Authoritarian Regimes: An Elite-Based Theory with Evidence from Russian Mayoral Elections
Almost all modern autocracies hold elections, and most hold multiparty elections. The prevalence of electoral authoritarian regimes has led an increasing number of scholars to study them. However, one topic that has received less attention is subnational elections. Subnational officials play a central role in the governance of authoritarian regimes. Regime leaders rely on local officials to maintain political stability, implement policy, and gather information about the provinces. Many of the world’s electoral authoritarian regimes hold elections to fill subnational offices,2 and several of the world’s most prominent single-party regimes – e.g., China and Vietnam – have recently begun experimenting with semi-competitive local elections. The decision to hold subnational elections has significant consequences in autocracies. They may directly affect the prospects for democratization, as when opposition parties use subnational elections as staging areas from which to mount broader challenges. Alternatively, autocrats may use subnational elections to improve their information gathering capacity and entrap voters in state-dependent, clientelist relations. Subnational elections may also affect government responsiveness and the quality of officials that are selected. Yet in spite of their importance, there are few studies that attempt to explain why subnational elections are held in some settings, but not in others. This paper helps fill that gap.