Underground Insurgency and Democratic Revolution

DRI Working Paper No. 57
By Antonio Cabrales, Antonio Calvo-Armengol and Leonard Wantchekon

We propose a model of the transition from an autocratic regime to either a liberal democracy or a new autocratic regime (e.g. a communist government). An underground organization votes on whether or not to hold a mass protest. If a protest is held, the organization members decide whether to put effort into the uprising. Higher effort makes regime change more likely, but it is individually risky. This creates the possibility, in principle, of high and low effort equilibria. But we show, using weak dominance arguments, that only the high effort equilibrium is “credible.” Thus, internal party democracy is shown to enhance the efficiency of political transitions. Finally, we show when the transition is likely to lead to the emergence of a democracy, and we derive conditions regarding the ”quality” of that democracy. When a revolution succeeds, it leads to a constitutional design phase wherein revolutionaries and reformists of the old regime negotiate the constitutional rules of the democratic game. This then leads to a democratic consolidation phase wherein the two sides choose to abide or not to abide by the result of elections. Conditions for a successful transition to (and consolidation of) democracy incorporate both ex-ante and ex-post assessments of electoral prospects by the parties who participate in the process.