"Parties of power" as "authoritarian institutions": the cases of Russia and Kazakhstan

GT 6.9 Inestabilidad política en los regímenes autoritarios y semiautoritarios euroasiáticos 20 años después de la desintegración de la URSS y Yugoslavia

Adele Del Sordi (IMT Lucca (Italy))

The study of authoritarian governance gained a renewal of attention in the 2000s, originated by the diffusion of autocratic regimes worldwide, and by an increasing feeling of uneasiness towards the “transition paradigm”. Particular attention has received the role of formal institutions usually associated with democracies (multiple political parties, semi-competitive elections, legislatures), in facilitating autocratic stability.

I use this “authoritarian institutions” framework to explain the phenomenon of “parties of power” in Russia and Kazakhstan. I consider their present incarnation – United Russia and Nur Otan – but try to strike a comparison between them and their less successful predecessors. United Russia and Nur Otan are strong, executive-based and executive-supported parties, which dominate the political scene. Moreover, they may have an important role in the autocratic consolidation of the two countries’ “hybrid” regimes.

I focus on two mechanisms by which these parties contribute to authoritarian stability: the first is the role they perform in collecting leaders’ popularity and channeling mass consensus through elections, often with overwhelming majorities.

A second and most important function is to stabilize and institutionalize elites support and to reduce transaction costs between the ruling group and other elites (regional, economic, etc). Following in particular Magaloni (2008) and Reuter & Remington (2009), I consider the United Russia and Nur Otan as possible solutions of a commitment problem between the ruling groups and the other elites. I place particular emphasis on the party function as “monopolist of jobs”, meaning their capacity to create long-term support from other elites by providing them with a career path. In order to do this, I look at career paths of top-level elites, trying to estimate the role played by party membership in personal career success.

Keywords: Party of power – authoritarian regime – Russia – Kazakhstan - elite