International nefariousness on the decline. Take that, cynics!

Whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1990 installed their leaders durably in power, between 1991 and 2001 the picture reverses, with the majority of coups leading to competitive elections in 5 years or less.

We argue that with the end of the Cold War, outside pressure has produced a development we characterize as the “electoral norm” – a requirement that binds successful coup-entrepreneurs to hold reasonably prompt and competitive elections upon gaining power.

Consistent with our explanation, we find that post-Cold War those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first to embrace competitive elections after the coup. Our theory is also able to account for the pronounced

decline in the non-constitutional seizure of executive power since the early 1990s. While the coup d’etat has been and still is the single most important factor leading to the downfall of democratic government, our findings indicate that the new generation of coups have been considerably less nefarious for democracy than their historical predecessors.

From a paper by Goemans and (my colleague) Marinov. There is a more recent version not yet online, but this older version should do.

4 thoughts on “International nefariousness on the decline. Take that, cynics!

  1. There were two effects — the Cold War and Bill Clinton. I wonder how 2001-2008 looks.

  2. But have elections actually increased the quality of governance? My impression is that on every measure Africa has gotten worse over the past twenty years. What if elections are the actual problem?

    Most governments are essentially bandits. What matters is whether they are stationary bandits or roving bandits. Democracy is essentially government by roving bandits. For this reason, it is very hard to find an example in history of a transition to democracy that improved the quality of government.

  3. In the U.S. we have a reasonably well-functioning institution that rejects democratic initiatives that conflict with some people’s ideas of what the core values of the country are: the court system.

    In countries that haven’t been able to develop a court system, unfortunately, the military arguably serves the role the U.S. Supreme Court does in the U.S. That’s most arguably the case in Turkey where any talk of moving away from the Kemalist secular ideal is met with grumbling from the generals and consequent back-tracking by politicians. In Thailand, three Prime Ministers who were mostly democratically supported all tried to take on the traditional military/business elite/royal family power structure and all failed.

    The end result of this “mixed” political system is that people may get sick of unrest and will vote for candidates backed by traditional elites. So it’s not clear this is a victory for “democracy” rather than some hybrid democracy where military elites still get veto power.