Executive Turnover and the Investigation of Former Leaders in New Democracies

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 199 –211
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920905640
Peaceful turnover of executive power has long been
viewed as a key sign of consolidation in new democracies
(Huntington 1991; Przeworski 2015; Przeworski et al.
2000). Handovers from one elected leader to another are
taken as an indication that elites and publics focus on
changing the rulers, not the regime, when they are dis-
satisfied with incumbents (Huntington 1991, 267).1 Some
research also suggests that democratic alternation in
office can generate other political benefits, including
public confidence in and support for democracy (Bratton
2004; Cho and Logan 2014; Moehler and Lindberg 2009),
increased public goods (Carbone and Pellegata 2017),
and better quality of governance (Milanovic, Hoff, and
Horowitz 2010).
However, executive turnover in new democracies can
create uncertainty about the status of leaders who leave
office. Peaceful handovers are thought to reflect elite
acceptance of democratic rules of the game, including
benign treatment of leaders who lose power by constitu-
tional means. In this view, presidents and prime minis-
ters (PMs) would be prosecuted post-tenure when there
is compelling evidence of misbehavior, but otherwise
they should be protected from politically driven target-
ing. Yet new democracies typically have few recent
examples of leaders going on to peaceful afterlives, and
mounting a case against a former leader can generate
political capital for a successor administration. Moreover,
since many new democracies experience problems with
weak rule of law, there may be few constraints on politi-
cal targeting of an ex-president or PM.
In fact, over a third (35%) of elected leaders in new
democracies between 1970 and 2011 have faced an ex
post investigation for malfeasance during their term.2 To
cite just a few examples, former Philippines President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001–2010) was investigated
for corruption and election-tampering. In Guatemala,
Alfonso Portillo (2000–2004) was investigated for embez-
zlement of government funds. Hungary’s Prime Minister
Viktor Orban (1998–2002) was the subject of a govern-
ment probe for corruption after his first term. And in South
Korea, Roh Moo Hyun (2003–2008) faced an investiga-
tion into irregular payments to his family from a major
Many of the leaders under investigation portray their
cases as politically motivated. But the question is, which
if any political factors matter? Are ex-presidents/PMs
905640PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920905640Political Research QuarterlyBahry and Kim
1The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
2North Carolina Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount, USA
Corresponding Author:
Young Hun Kim, School of Social Sciences & Education, North
Carolina Wesleyan College, 3400 N Wesleyan Blvd., Rocky Mount,
NC 27804, USA.
Email: ykim@ncwc.edu
Executive Turnover and the
Investigation of Former Leaders
in New Democracies
Donna Bahry1 and Young Hun Kim2
What prompts governments in new democracies to investigate elected leaders once they leave office? Theorizing
about democratic regimes suggests that leadership turnover by constitutional means should generate few such cases:
democratic entry to and exit from office are thought to prompt benign treatment from successor administrations.
Yet over a third of democratically elected presidents and prime ministers who left office between 1970 and 2011
have faced investigations for malfeasance. This study analyzes the conditions that generate such cases. We find that
the odds of investigation rise when there is strong evidence of former leaders’ personal culpability; but also when the
executive regime is presidential, and the judiciary lacks independence from other branches. Partisanship has a more
limited impact: co-partisanship with the incumbent reduces the odds of investigation for ex-prime ministers, but
sharing a party label with an incumbent offers no such protection to a former president.
executive turnover, corruption, investigation, democracies, democratization

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