Is It Worth It? Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies

Elvin Ong

1University Of British Columbia, Canada

The existing literature suggests that forming pre-electoral alliances significantly enhances the chances of opposition victory against incumbent autocrats. Yet, duelling opposition party leaders frequently fail to agree on the costly compromises necessary for coordinating candidate selection and electoral campaigns. Under what conditions will opposition elites build pre-electoral alliances? This paper argues that variation in the perceptions of the extra chances of winning leads to variation in opposition alliance formation. When opposition elites perceive that coordination fetches little or uncertain extra chances of winning, deep disagreements over the alliance’s worthiness hinders alliance building. Alternatively, when opposition elites perceive building alliances will significantly boost their probability of electoral victory, widespread agreement about the alliance’s expected benefits spurs alliance building efforts. A paired historical comparison of opposition alliance formation in autocratic Philippines and South Korea illustrates the theory’s propositions. Evidence comes from the secondary literature, newspaper reports, Congressional hearing transcripts, and declassified American foreign policy documents from the Reagan era.


Elvin Ong is a Dan David Prize 2019 Scholar in Defending Democracy and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Asian Research in the University of British Columbia. He received his PhD from Emory University. He is currently developing a book manuscript on opposition pre-electoral coalition formation in electoral autocracies.


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