Building Sustainable Opposition in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes

Project leader

Sofie Bedford, PhD

Project Participants

Laurent Vinatier, affiliated researcher at UCRS

Project period


Project description

Orange, Rose, Tulip – the electoral revolutions that have taken place in the post-Soviet space during the last decade are referred to in colorful terms. This stands in stark contrast to the “gray” (Carothers 2002) or “foggy” (Schedler 2002) image of other countries in the region stuck in stagnating transition. Opposition parties in these gray zones have long struggled in a harsh political climate without substantial results or concessions from the state, which has resulted in being written off as “failed opposition”. Our project argues it is time to reevaluate this notion. Repression and political manipulation have not eliminated opposition in these contexts but given it a vibrant and transformational character. Even if the authoritarian regime appears to be static and immovable the opposition against it is certainly not and since both the notion and the work of the opposition in these contexts is changing it is time for a new analysis. Hence, the project pursues an indebt comparative study of opposition as “work in progress” in two electoral autocratic regimes – Belarus and Azerbaijan where opposition is generally described as “failed”. The main aims of the study are to investigate the recent organizational changes within Azerbaijani and Belarusian oppositions, observe and analyze the new opposition dynamics in action and theoretically elaborate on how to build constructive opposition in these types of political settings. Our theoretical point of departure is Bounce & Wolchik’s “electoral model” (2011) arguing that the consolidation and actions of oppositional actors is more important than structural factors for accomplishing regime change in authoritarian states.

Related publications

Ulyana Kaposhka and Sofie Bedford: "Belarus Parliamentary Elections 2016: Something Old Something New”, Baltic Worlds, October 10 2016.

Sofie Bedford, Laurent Vinatier, Leila Aliyeva, and Vugar Goyajev" ‘Failed Opposition’ Reconsidered: Dynamism and Changing Paradigms in Azerbaijan". In Kaj Hobér, ed., Uppsala Yearbook of Eurasian Studies. Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing: London. 2016. 104-122.

Sofie Bedford, "To Participate or Not to Participate– That is the Question. Electoral Strategies of the Azerbaijani Opposition", Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan. Caucasus Analytical Digest 79, 3 December 2015.

Sofie Bedford, Laurent Vinatier, Leila Alieva, and Vugar Gojayev: ‘Failed Opposition’ Reconsidered: Dynamism and Changing Paradigms in Azerbaijan.

Sofie Bedford: Val för att bevara status quo: elektoral autokrati och stabilitet i Azerbajdzjan, Nordisk Østforum 29 (1) 2015: 5–32.

Sofie Bedford: “Everybody knows who will win”. Presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Baltic Worlds 24 October 2013. 

Events in connection to the project

Conference Panel: “Opposition” in Azerbaijan and Belarus: What Went Wrong? at “Europe, Nations, and Insecurity: Challenges to Identities”, organized by Vytautas Magnus University, in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania, 30 June – 2 July, 2016. Chair: Sofie Bedford. Speakers: Leila Alieva, Alexei Pikulik, Laurent Vinatier, and Tatsiana Chulitskaya. Discussant: Giorgio Comai. 

UCRS Seminar: "Opposition as 'Work in Progress'. Examining recent elections in Belarus and Azerbaijan” with Sofie Bedford and Laurant Vinatier, December 4 2015.  

Conference Panel: Oppositions’ Role in the Modernization of Autocratic Regimes-Belarus and Azerbaijan as Case Studies, at the 4th ASCN Annual Conference: Protest, Modernization, Democratization: Political and Social Dynamics
in Post-Soviet Countries, Tblisi, Georgia Sept 4-5 2015. Moderator: Sofie Bedford. Discussant: Laurent Vinatier.

Post-election briefing: Lessons Learned for the Azerbaijani Opposition. Academic seminar held on November 4 2013 at UCRS. Funded by research initiation grants from Uppsala Forum on Democracy, Peace and Justice and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

Project Launch Seminar: Building Sustainable Opposition in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes. February 13 2015, UCRS.

Major funding source

Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)