Opposing Power: Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies.

AuthorHooi, Khoo Ying

Opposing Power: Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies. By Elvin Ong. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2022. Softcover: 297pp.

At the heart of Elvin Ong's book is the question "Under what conditions will opposition parties and their leaders build pre-electoral alliances?" (p. 5). Much of the scholarly literature on coalition formation has focused on coalitions that form in the aftermath of elections. However, the analytical focus has increasingly been broadened to accommodate coalitions that form before elections. Recognizing the role of opposition parties play in the democratization process, Ong focuses on the factors that determine the formation of pre-electoral alliances in electoral autocracies.

By engaging with the complex literature on coalition formation and democratization, and utilizing four case studies from East and Southeast Asia, Ong argues that the opposition elites' perceptions of regime vulnerability and of their mutual dependence for victory shape how opposition alliances are built in electoral autocracies. By validating this argument, the author successfully provides more analytical clarity about the variety of pathways towards democratization for countries that are categorized as electoral autocracies.

The first part of the book sets the tone with an introduction to the theoretical and research design of the project, offering details about the challenges of building opposition alliances, coordination problems, regime vulnerability and inter-party dependence. Ong explains that pre-electoral alliances are challenging to build and rare under electoral authoritarianism for four reasons: the difficulty in fostering ideological compromise; the challenges of electoral systems; the lack of credible commitment; and autocratic interference. He goes on to identify the two aspects that opposition parties should coordinate on: candidate selection or allocation, and a joint electoral campaign against the autocrats. This entails compromises and can only emerge under unique conditions. Based on this, Ong argues how the two variables--the opposition elites' perceptions of regime vulnerability and of their mutual dependence--become conditional upon the autocratic environment because these two forms of coordination entail costly compromise among opposition parties.

In the second and third parts of the book, Ong uses four case studies to illustrate his central argument. Part two explores how the opposition's...

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