What are you searching for?

RP 1: Accountability and Participation

How is political rule organised? How do politicians exercise power? Who governs with which legitimation and which practices? Since the beginning of the century global democracy has been in decline. Processes of democratic erosion or reversal have affected new and established democracies across continents. Even citizens in some autocracies have been confronting hardening conditions. These piecemeal regime transitions may provoke substantial decline in political competition, participation or accountability. The Accountability and Participation Research Programme investigates political processes, institutional change, and socio-political developments taking place in the Global South.

Our research focuses on state–society and intra-state political dynamics in different political regimes. We pay attention to how civil society organises itself, and how it protests and mobilises its members and supporters to assert its demands and get politicians to deliver under conditions of high levels of economic and social inequality, and often of political repression. Likewise, we analyse the leadership’s responsiveness towards citizens’ demands and the empowerment of executives above other actors and institutions. We are interested in the prevalence of informal practices, such as clientelism and corruption, which may imperil the rule of law and, in democracies, the link between citizens and political elites, thereby providing opportunities for populist mobilisation. In addition, the study of authoritarian political practices at national or local levels alerts us on the emergence and spread of authoritarian enclaves in different political regimes. Our researchers develop context-sensitive research in the field of comparative politics and related disciplines such as sociology, legal studies, and political economy. They actively engage in scholarly exchange with researchers in the regions and provide civil society organisations and decision-makers with research-grounded expertise on the Global South’s most relevant socio-political dynamics.

The Research Programme’s work is conducted in two Research Teams. The Democratic Institutions Research Team studies the functioning of political institutions and policy-making processes under strong executive leadership as well as mechanisms of vertical accountability and social participation in democratic and semi-democratic regimes. The Authoritarian Politics Research Team focuses on authoritarian regime characteristics, strategies, internal dynamics, and transformation processes. It also examines the role of authoritarian political practices in autocracies and democracies at the sub-national, the regional and global levels.


News and Highlights




Research Projects


Research Teams

The Research Programme’s work is conducted in two Research Teams. The Democratic Institutions Research Team studies the functioning of political institutions and policy-making processes under strong executive leadership as well as mechanisms of vertical accountability and social participation in democratic and semi-democratic regimes. The Authoritarian Politics Research Team focuses on authoritarian regime characteristics, strategies, internal dynamics, and transformation processes. It also examines the role of authoritarian political practices in autocracies and democracies at the sub-national, the regional and global levels.

Research Team 1: Democratic Institutions

The Democratic Institutions Research Team looks into the functioning of formal and informal political institutions, the ways in which citizens seek and/or fail to hold power-holders accountable, the policy-making process, and processes of democratic erosion in the democratic and semi-democratic regimes of the Global South. The team’s current research concentrates on three areas.

Executive politics in unconsolidated democracies is usually characterised by powerful presidents that seek to control formal institutions and decision processes. We examine the behavioural and institutional dimensions of executive leadership by analysing which interests drive their political decisions. We focus also on the institutional and political dynamics of powerful executives, such as the personalisation of power, populist discourses, and institutional engineering.

Powerful executives frequently face relatively weak control institutions, such as courts and legislatures which may imperil democracy. We study how institutions of horizontal accountability are challenged but also the strategies that these institutions apply to bolster their legitimacy and independence.

Citizens can hold their governments accountable through elections, civic engagement and protest. The research team analyses the quality of elections as well as the influence of clientelism and ethnic politics on electoral processes. Moreover, we look at the ways in which civil society organises itself around topics of democracy, identity, and sustainability, and we identify the factors influencing the success of mobilisation.

Our work is primarily empirical and is based on extensive original data collection. We use a range of empirical methods, including qualitative approaches, such as process tracing and comparative case studies, as well as statistical analysis and field experiments.

Research Team 2: Authoritarian Politics

This Research Team studies authoritarian political practices in states all over the world. We analyse authoritarian regime characteristics, strategies, internal dynamics, and interaction with citizens, societal groups, and the political opposition. We study transformation processes such as the emergence, persistence, and demise of authoritarian regimes. Since authoritarian practices are not limited to autocracies, we also investigate their role in democracies.

Our research often centres on actors and their behaviour within certain institutional and discursive contexts. Relevant actors include political elites, security services, the political opposition and protest movements, and diaspora populations. We study civil-military relations, shrinking spaces for civil society, and regime responses to popular protests, including both concessions and repression. Discourses to justify coercion tie in with general strategies of legitimation and co-optation that matter in authoritarian contexts.

Our analyses are not limited to the nation-state level, as we also investigate authoritarian politics on the sub-national, the regional, and global levels, taking into account international cooperation, diffusion and learning processes that spread authoritarian practices across the globe. Our research builds on theories from comparative politics and integrates insights from sociology, international relations, foreign policy analysis, and political communication. We employ and welcome a broad variety of methodological approaches and types of data.