Backsliding By the Backdoor? Hollow Political Competition and the Concentration of Power in Postcommunist Europe

Thursday, July 13, 2017
JWS - Room J15 (J375) (University of Glasgow)
Seán Hanley , School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London
Milada Anna Vachudova , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This paper explores how democratic backsliding may shape political competition in East Central European states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.  We argue that not all cases of democratic backsliding follow the pattern of Hungary, where the ruling party Fidesz has formally concentrated power through a conservative-nationalist project to dismantle the “liberal” in liberal democracy, enabling Fidesz elites to use corruption to capture the state.  In other cases, the concentration of power has come more stealthily – without the use of ethnic nationalism or overt tampering with existing democratic institutions and, paradoxically, backed by rhetoric of anti-corruption and political reform.  In the Czech Republic, for example, corruption has propelled into government a new, populist party called ANO, founded by the billionaire Andrej Babiš. ANO has succeeded in controlling or co-opting parts of the media and of civil society and also capturing parts of the state to serve narrow economic interests. Using the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) on party positioning and data on corruption and party organizational development, we explore how changes in the substance of party competition manifest themselves in different kinds of state capture and consider how the hollowness of Czech democracy, which has enabled the rise of a ‘personal party’ like ANO, also facilitates forms of power concentration that may enable more overt illiberal backsliding.