Academic Profile

People Feature

Melis G. Laebens

Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Politics

I completed my PhD degree in political science at Yale University, and arrived at Nuffield in October 2020. My research centers on democratic backsliding and political parties, and spans several regions. 

I am currently working on my book manuscript, entitled Incumbents Against Democracy, where I analyze the conditions under which democratically elected incumbents can gradually take over democratic institutions and establish authoritarian control over those without abolishing elections or legislatures. While a relatively large number of democratically elected leaders have attempted to subvert democratic institutions in this gradual and ambiguous way in the last three decades, only a few have succeeded in replacing the democratic regime with an authoritarian regime under their leadership. To explain diverging outcomes, I emphasize differences in incumbents' political strength, focusing on the effectiveness and reliability of their main political instrument, their party. I argue that the organizational features of incumbents’ parties help explain why some leaders can become "elected dictators": where ruling parties are hierarchical and have mass organizations, leaders enjoy greater ability to pursue their strategy of institutional transformation while maintaining electoral support, and can do so even in times of economic crisis.

In other ongoing work, together with Marcin Ślarzyński (IFiS PAN) we are using a mixed methods approach to investigate whether and how the links between local civil society organizations and political parties help foster the expansion of party organizations in Poland, focusing particularly on the governing party, PiS. 

Melis Laebens