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Elections in authoritarian regimes : an endogenous story of elite dynamics in post reform Vietnam and China Chan, Evelyn

Abstract

The study of elections in authoritarian states has predominantly focused on whether elections help sustain or undercut the regime. Elections can either placate or embolden the opposition. However in the context of single party Leninist states, elections play a different role. Given that the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Chinese Communist Party have a monopoly of power in the political arena and tremendous control over society, there is no significant opposition force. Yet the two states hold elections. Furthermore, despite the two country’s similar trajectories of political and economic reform, both states undertake semi-competitive elections differently. China chooses to maintain a relatively closed system at the top, while creating a dynamic and competitive system at the local level; while Vietnam opts for a more open system at the top and keeps electoral institutions closed at the local level. This paper raises several questions; 1) why do Single Party Leninist States hold elections? 2) What is the significance of holding national versus sub-national elections? 3) why do China and Vietnam hold different types of elections given their similar regime-type? I propose an endogenous story to explain the varied outcomes in electoral institutions in China and Vietnam. Authoritarian elections and election-types are an institutional choice and a function of how the regime is constrained by elite pluralism. Comparing Vietnam and China and how they liberalize and cede power to institutions at different levels, demonstrates how elite divide shape the type of elections undertaken.

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