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Small islands of democracy in an authoritarian sea : explaining Mongolian and Kyrgyz democratic development Jargalsaikhan, Mendee

Abstract

My dissertation investigates the democratization of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, small states in the Sino-Russian sphere of influence. Taking Mongolia as a primary case, I ask why an electoral democracy has succeeded in an authoritarian neighbourhood where Western democracy promoters lack interests and leverage. Bridging the international relations and comparative politics literature, I develop a theoretical framework to examine how geopolitical interests of great powers and the presence or absence of a strong political party impact the democratization process in a small state. I posit two explanations for Mongolia’s successful transition to and consolidation of electoral democracy. First, I contend that the absence of direct geopolitical competition of Western and neighbouring great powers made Mongolia’s democratic transition possible and Western democracy promotion credible. I explain how the absence of direct geopolitical competition fosters contestation in domestic politics whereas the presence of direct geopolitical competition among great powers reduces the likelihood of democratization. Second, I argue that the presence of a strong political party that is highly institutionalized and dominated by pro-reform and collective leadership prevents political violence and hijacking of state institutions by populist leaders during the transition stage. The survival of a former ruling party provides a model and anti-incumbent impetus for new parties and contributes to the development of a competitive party system in the consolidation stage. To apply my framework to other cases, I examine the democratization process of Kyrgyzstan and find that the main causes of reversal were the re-emergence of direct geopolitical competition of great powers and the former ruling party dismantlement, which resulted in a weak party system. The study of Kyrgyzstan shows how overriding security interests undermined Western democracy promotion efforts, while the absence of a strong party explains the transfer of political power through violent protests rather than regular, competitive elections. This framework applies to the democratization of small states, many of which have operated in authoritarian neighbourhoods. The majority of these states conducted political reforms in favourable international settings in the post-Cold War period, but some succeeded whereas others failed. Geopolitical and political party dynamics could explain such divergent outcomes.

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