Neopatrimonial Post-Conflict Political Order

Patrimonialism has been the prevailing form of political order that must be overcome in constructing rule-bound, effective, and legitimate government. Post-conflict countries are no exception to this pattern. In Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan, international interventions that sought to establish one particular conception of political order found themselves in competition with the neopatrimonial practices preferred by domestic elites. The dynamic contest between these two visions of political order is especially apparent in the aftermath of a peacebuilding presence, when domestic elites and their supporters reassert patrimonial forms of politics that undermine the formal institutions of governance transplanted by interventions. As a result, a decade and more after the transformative peacebuilding missions in the three countries considered here, what is apparent is that patrimonial and rational-legal authority coexist in a quintessential neopatrimonial hybrid form - with personalized politics practiced within the institutional trappings of Weberian bureaucratic effectiveness and electoral democratic legitimacy.

Neopatrimonial political order operates through a system of rentseeking and rent distribution through patronage.[1] Patron-client relationships form and persist on the basis of these distributional strategies, which bind elites to each other as well as to their social sources of support. In the liberal ideal associated with modern political order, by contrast, elites endowed with legitimate authority through the vote should use the rationalized bureaucracy to deliver programmatic public policies and collectively oriented goods and services. It is apparent from the experiences in Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan that postconflict elites, like their counterparts across the contemporary developing world, find that it is both easier and more profitable for them to focus, for the most part, on distributing narrowly targeted public rents and patronage goods to their clients in exchange for political support. One major insight of historical institutionalist theory is that actors use a variety of strategies to achieve change in political outcomes “beneath the veneer of apparent institutional stability.”[2] One such process is that of “conversion,” whereby actors can reshape institutions and policies to achieve objectives very different from the purposes for which they were originally created.[3] Thus, the characteristically hybrid nature of neopatrimonialism suits their ends very well: they perform their major functions in the formal institutional realms of state administration and electoral politics while maneuvering in more hidden and less risky ways to represent their own interests and those of their major client groups.

Analytical approaches that rely on more short-term measures of peacebuilding success and evaluate interventions as exogenous treatments are unfortunately restricted in seeing these gradual and endogenous processes of institutional change that continue to unfold. This chapter addresses this blind spot by tying international interventions to their aftermath, viewing the creation of post-conflict institutions as the beginning of the next phase of political contestation. It thus devotes further attention to the consequences of the institutional decisions made during the transitional governance process and the unfolding domestic political dynamics, as I assess the degree of state capacity and democratic consolidation in Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Hewing to the historical institutionalist perspective, I examine how governance power shifts and settles through the institutional system, paying particular attention to the manner in which domestic elites use the institutional infrastructure to their advantage in consolidating their own grip on power. Two core elements of the nature of neopatrimonial political order in the three cases are highlighted. First, I emphasize that the effects of the transitional governance strategy last into the final phase of the peacebuilding pathway. Political elites thus continue to use the strategies of institutional change on display during the transitional governance period as they work to consolidate their preferred neopatrimonial political order in the aftermath of intervention. Second, the chapter recognizes that post-intervention Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan vary in the extent to which they can be characterized as peaceful, democratic, and well-governed. The governance qualities of the specific hybrid order that forms in each country rest on the particular system of rent extraction and distribution that emerges in each, which results, in turn, from how transitional governance interventions interacted with antecedent conditions in each case. The consequences of these peacebuilding attempts can only truly be understood when they are viewed as pivotal points in time.

Power dynamics evolve in ways that can be hidden unless enough time has elapsed to view their outcomes, especially when path- dependent feedback loops are involved.4 The previous chapter emphasized that because UN peace operations must govern, they asymmetrically empower one group of domestic elites to dominate the transformative peace process and its aftermath. This has lasting consequences. Paul Pierson identifies five mechanisms through which power can beget power: the transfer of a stock of resources to victors; their subsequent access to a stream of resources over time; the signal that political victory sends about relative political strength and capability and the alignment of other actors to these signals; shifts in political and social discourse, or the cultural power to change society’s preferences; and the inducement of preference changes that benefit those in power through targeted investments, institutions, and policies.5 The evidence presented in this chapter shows that these mechanisms apply as much to those elites conferred power by the international community as to those who win it under their own steam.

  • [1] Fukuyama 2011: 336-343, explains that the term “rent” derives from ancienregime France, where in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, the monarchy grewstrong by co-opting elites. It did so by offering them the ability to purchasesmall pieces of the state or public assets, such as the right to collect specifictypes of taxes, that would generate a continuous stream of revenue and thatcould be handed down to descendants. The monarchy gave local power-holdersthese various privileges in return for cash (“rente”), thereby mortgaging itself tothese power-holders who, in turn, served as a concerted bloc defending thestatus quo and preventing reform. See also Ertman 1997: 98-99.
  • [2] Thelen and Mahoney 2015: 23.
  • [3] Hacker, Pierson, and Thelen 2015: 185-186.
 
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