Question times under competitive authoritarianism offer opposition deputies a public arena for criticism. I argue that autocrats grant opposition elites regular opportunities to evaluate government performance as a credible commitment to discourage protests. In a model of Bayesian persuasion, I show that arbitrary threats of violence intimidate opposition legislators into softening their criticism. It creates a biased public signal which dissuades citizens from protesting in situations where their protests would have succeeded, had no question times occurred. This analysis clarifies the role of opposition deputies under competitive authoritarianism. Unlike previous research suggests, opposition elites should have no interest in informing service provision, although autocrats would prefer informational over biased question times. But autocrats can capitalize on incentives for opposition elites to manipulate beliefs about regime support. Moreover, covert repression is essential for information manipulation, a common survival strategy in modern autocracies, although previous research interprets these concepts as mutual replacements.
Question times under competitive authoritarianism are often considered as a device for autocrats to improve service provision. An opposing view interprets them as a persuasion mechanism used to discourage civil unrest. To reconcile these interpretations, I introduce the notion of a legislator’s affinity towards democracy into the formal model of Bayesian persuasion which the latter position rests on. I then argue that partisan deputies have a lower affinity than opposition deputies, implying that partisans---not opposition deputies---are those providing valuable information to improve service delivery. Opposition participation is primarily exploited to dissuade protests. Counterintuitively, opposition deputies are predicted to more likely approve during question times than partisans. Approval reduces the risks of protest across political affiliations. I confirm these predictions using original data from a sentiment analysis of all questions raised during query sessions in Zimbabwe from September 2015 through December 2019 combined with protest data at constituency level.
Two worlds of personalist dictatorship exist: in the uncontested world, no challenge erupts. A dictator’s reputation of invincibility is robust enough to fully deter potential rivals. In the contested world, rumours of lurking conspiracies abound. Disloyalty is pervasive. In this hostile environment, dictators arbitrarily publicly allege regime insiders and outsiders of conspiratorial activities and punish them ruthlessly. Such accusations serve two purposes: ruthless punishment aims to deter potential rivals, their arbitrary recurring nature to foster a reputation of invincibility. Public accusations constitute a chief survival strategy of personalist dictators. Even vulnerable dictators can build a reputation of invincibility endogenously when resorting to public accusations. Personalist dictators also endogenously render their environment more hostile to create necessary conditions for this strategy to work. Counterintuitively, conspiratorial activities decrease in the level of hostility and increase in a dictator’s reputation of invincibility unless it already fully deters potential conspirators.