Drawing on the literatures on elite transitions, factionalism and the new institutionalism, this paper hypothesizes that the stability of partially democratic and emerging democratic regimes is dependent on the willingness of elites to make credible commitments to cooperate and comply with democratic rules. That willingness (or lack thereof) can be signaled by the presence of cooperative or conflict-precipitating events and actions in the periods around elections. We identify and analyze a variety of intra-elite interactions and demonstrate that conflict-precipitating events significantly increase the odds of a democratic retreat in the months before or just after an election, while cooperative events can balance them and prevent retreat. Using event data collected from 40 low- and middle-income countries for two-year periods around national elections between 1991 and 2007 we show that the imbalance of conflict-precipitating over cooperative events is far greater in cases of retreat from democracy. Furthermore, international intervention and pressure had a negative relationship with democratic stability. A logistic regression model accurately identified democratic retreat in 79 percent of the cases examined. Factor analysis revealed several common patterns of intra-elite conflict that can lead to democratic retreat, or conversely, patterns of cooperative events that bolster democratic consolidation. Finally, the data strongly argues for a model of democratic development that depends on open-ended elite maneuvering and the emergence of elite agreements, rather than a model where strong prior institutional constraints determine elite actions.
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