Binding Contestation: How Party-Military Relations Influence Democratization

A key dilemma facing a military which is considering democratization is whether it is confident that civilians will protect its interests. A military’s confidence is a function of three factors: preference alignment with parties (trust), an expectation that allied parties will survive the transition (party institutionalization), and an expectation that allied parties can win power to protect it (party strength). When parties that the military trusts are institutionalized and strong, the military is confident that democratization will not endanger its interests. When these factors are absent, the military seeks to generate credible commitments through bounded democratization – a strategy of setting parameters on open contestation and popular sovereignty to constrain civilians. I test this argument using an original dataset on 525 regime transitions and a novel measure of bounded democratization. I find that when the institutionalization and strength of trusted parties decrease, the military proactively sets constraints on the developing political system.

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