Elites and Democracy in Developing Nations

Open Panel

By 2018, only 20 nations were classified as full democracies and 55 as flawed democracies. On the other end of the spectrum, 53 nations were classified as authoritarian and 39 as hybrid regimes. As a percentage of the world’s population, this means that less than half (47.7%) of citizens globally live in some form of democracy and 35.6% under authoritarian rule. Simultaneously, the outlook for the global economy is worsening, geopolitical uncertainty is on the rise, the levels of dissatisfaction with democracy are at an all-time high, and the increase in populist and nationalist leaders in recent years are bound to have a negative effect on the democratization processes in many developing nations.

In the majority of democratic transitions in the 1980s and 1990s, elites were pivotal in kick-starting and driving the process of democratization. These transitions, either by pacts between factions within the previous autocracy and its opposition or by imposition from a victorious faction, were initiated, monitored and controlled (to differing degrees) by pre-existing elites. Under these conditions, there is likely to be a much greater continuity in the composition of political elites. Yet both of these elite-dominated modes of transition have their potential perverse effects and critical moments. On the front end of the process of democratization, success depends on converting a complex set of rewards and threats into rules that political and other elites are willing to respect. On the back end, the viability of these compromises among elites will depend on whether citizens regard these institutions as legitimate and are willing to comply voluntarily with the constraints they place on their political behaviour because they regard them as appropriate - materially and normatively.

This panel invites papers that engage with the topic of political elites and democracy in developing nations, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The focus of papers can include, but is not limited to, the role of political elites, the composition of political elites, political representation, political accountability, identity, personality and ideology, political culture, political networks, political structures and institutions, as well as political recruitment and circulation.