Other Lee Morgenbesser
Presented by: Research Fellow Lee Morgenbesser, Griffith Asia Institute
The classification of authoritarian regimes has become a cottage industry within the field of comparative politics. This is evidenced by several comprehensive cross-sectional time-series data sets designed to capture not only their similarities and differences, but causes and effects that cannot be measured nominally. Such data sets have been instrumental to new research into the pace and scope of democratisation as well as the onset of interstate war. A key task accompanying the creation of these data sets, which are all based on an underlying typology, is the need to make difficult classification judgements about incommensurable aspects of authoritarian politics. Against this backdrop, this paper offers a critique of the effort to classify authoritarian regimes according to their prominent descriptive features. Using the case of Cambodia, it demonstrates how the present leadership should be classified as a party-personalist regime, rather than an exclusively party-based regime. This is evidenced through an original survey of Cambodia country experts and a descriptive analysis of how Hun Sen has personalised power in six observable ways. The misclassification of Cambodia by all the leading data sets brings to the fore important questions about how they can reliably account for the more ambiguous authoritarian regimes around the world. The collective failure to accurately classify Cambodia, it is argued, is illustrative of two underlying problems: concept systemisation and measurement error. The first issue denotes the lack of broader specification of how personalism operates as a dimension of authoritarian politics, while the second issue refers to the use of inaccurate, partial or misleading sources as a description for empirical reality. The paper concludes by addressing the implications of this finding.
Lee Morgenbesser is a research fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University. His research focuses on contemporary dictatorships, democratisation, hybrid regimes and Southeast Asia politics. His first book, Behind the Façade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (SUNY Press), is scheduled for release in September 2016. Next year he will be teaching a new course at Griffith University, entitled The Way of the Dictator: Authoritarian Rule in the Modern World.
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