Authoritarian ruling parties are expected to resist democratization, often times at all costs. And yet some of the strongest authoritarian parties in the world have not resisted democratization, but have instead embraced it. This is because their raison d’etre is to continue ruling, though not necessarily to remain authoritarian. Put another way, democratization requires ruling parties hold free and fair elections, but not that they lose them. Authoritarian ruling parties can thus be incentivized to concede democratization from a position of exceptional strength. This alternative pathway to democracy is illustrated with Asian cases – notably Taiwan – in which ruling parties democratized from positions of considerable strength, and not weakness. The conceding-to-thrive argument has clear implications with respect to “candidate cases” in developmental Asia, where ruling parties have not yet conceded democratization despite being well-positioned to thrive were they to do so, such as the world’s most populous dictatorship, China.
Joseph Wong is the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, and Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Democratization, Health and Development. Professor Wong was the Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School from 2005 to 2014. In addition to academic articles and book chapters, Professor Wong has published four books: Healthy Democracies: Welfare Politics in Taiwan and South Korea (2004) and Betting on Biotech: Innovation and the Limits of Asia’s Developmental State (2011), both published by Cornell University Press, as well as Political Transitions in Dominant Party Systems: Learning to Lose, co-edited with Edward Friedman (Routledge, 2008), and Innovating for the Global South: Towards a New Innovation Agenda, co-edited with Dilip Soman and Janice Stein (University of Toronto Press, 2014). He is currently working on a book monograph with Dan Slater (University of Chicago) on Asia’s development and democracy, which is currently under contract with Princeton University Press. Professor Wong earned his Hons. B.A from McGill University (1995) and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2001).