Legislatures, Cooptation and Protest in Contemporary Authoritarian Regimes
A key debate in the new literature on authoritarianism concerns the role of institutions in general and legislatures in particular. While much of the literature accepts that authoritarian legislatures matter, there is little agreement as to why and how. In this article, we argue that a key function of authoritarian legislatures is to help leaders reduce social protest. In contrast to existing literature, which stresses the representative function of authoritarian legislatures, we argue that legislatures reduce social protest by providing rent-seeking opportunities to key opposition elites who, in return for access to these spoils, demobilize their supporters. We test this argument using original data on the distribution of leadership positions in 83 Russian regional legislatures and two new datasets on opposition protest in Russia. Our findings suggest that legislative cooptation may extend the lifespan of authoritarian regimes by helping to reduce antiregime protest.