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Article

The institutionalization of relative advantage: formal institutions, subconstitutional presidential powers, and the rise of authoritarian politics in Russia, 1994–2012

Post-Soviet Affairs. 2017. Vol. 33. No. 6. P. 472-495.
Burkhardt F.

What role do formal institutions play in the consolidation of authoritarian regimes such as the Russian Federation? Oftentimes, it is assumed that autocrats, usually potent presidents, wield informal powers and control far-flung patron–client networks that undermine formal institutions and bolster their rule. After the institutional turn in authoritarianism studies, elections, parties, legislatures, or courts have taken center stage, yet presidencies and public law are still on the margins of this research paradigm. This paper proposes a method for measuring subconstitutional presidential power and its change by federal law, decrees, and Constitutional Court rulings as well as a theoretical framework for explaining when and under which conditions subconstitutional presidential power expands. It is argued that as a result of a gradual, small-scale, and slow-moving process of layering, presidential powers have been accumulated over time. This furthers the institutionalization of presidential advantage toward other federal and regional institutions, which in turn contributes to the consolidation of authoritarianism.