Out of the shadows: autocratic regimes, election observation and legitimation
Autocratic regimes have developed a new strategy to overcome the high costs of either fully complying or not complying with the international norm of external election observation. This article explains how many dictators and dominant parties deploy ‘shadow’ election observation groups over professional observation groups as part of a mock compliance strategy. By supplanting the identity of the group judging elections and displacing the normative standard being applied, autocratic regimes have sought to gain democratic-procedural legitimation via flawed elections. This argument is evidenced using case studies of parliamentary and presidential elections in Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Egypt, which show that legitimation driven by shadow observation groups has become a globally applied strategy. The conclusion offers policy proscriptions for how to counteract the deployment of these groups and what the emergence of this phenomenon means for the study of autocratic legitimation.
Political Science not elsewhere classified