Anti-Corruption and Illiberalism in the Global South

This project will explore whether, how, and under what conditions anti-corruption campaigns by national governments contribute to heightened illiberalism in national politics. Over the last two decades, at the same time as anti-corruption legal frameworks and initiatives have gained global legitimacy, multiple countries have experienced marked erosion in the civil liberties and political rights of their citizens.  

The goal of the first stage of this project is to identify and theorize the different pathways that may connect anti-corruptionism and surges in illiberal governance. To that end, project researchers will compile and analyze ten case studies on countries across three world regions – East-Central Europe (Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia), South & Southeast Asia (India, the Philippines, and Malaysia), and Latin America (Brazil, Costa Rica, and El Salvador). Each country underwent a surge in anti-corruptionism since the early 2000s, but only some of the selected cases experienced heightened illiberalism in the wake of their anti-corruptionism moment.  

For Phase I of the study, researchers will gather different modalities of data for each country (expert interviews, policy documents, NGO reports, etc.) to spell out the different pathways whereby anti-corruptionism may be connected to illiberal surges, and theorize which socio-political conditions, and their combinations, are necessary and sufficient for anti-corruptionism to lead to spikes in illiberal political rhetoric and action. Phase II will test the model empirically through survey experiments and through the analysis of an original dataset on the “anti-corruption movements” in all of the world’s countries since the turn of the twentieth century. 

Project researchers hope that this analysis will point to potential safeguards that can be incorporated into future anti-corruption policy to protect against subversion by authoritarian-leaning politicians, unintended negative side-effects for democratic regimes, and other collateral damage.