Democratic Subversion: Elite Cooptation and Opposition Fragmentation

Democratic Subversion: Elite Cooptation and Opposition Fragmentation

By Leonardo R. Arriola, University of California, Berkeley, Jed Devaro, California State University, East Bay, and Anne Meng, University of Virginia

Incumbents in electoral regimes often retain power despite having to regularly compete in multiparty elections. We examine a specific channel through which incumbents can seek to prevent the emergence of a strong opposition that might threaten them in future elections. We present a formal model demonstrating that incumbents can strategically induce opposition fragmentation by appointing some opposition members to ministerial cabinet positions. Opposition politicians who have the opportunity to secure a cabinet position in an incumbent’s government tend to compete for office independently rather than coalescing into broad-based parties or electoral alliances. The model shows that weaker incumbents are more likely to rely on this cooptation strategy. Using original data on presidential elections across African countries during 1990–2016, we show that past cooptation of opposition politicians is associated with a more fragmented opposition field in subsequent elections.