Activist Origins of Political Ambition: Opposition Candidacy in Africa’s Electoral Authoritarian Regimes, Keith Weghorst

Reviewed by Rachael Mclellan

This book is an important contribution to the study of opposition candidacy. Using rich evidence from Tanzania, Weghorst addresses an outstanding puzzle for academics and policymakers alike: why do opposition politicians stand for election in electoral autocracies? Existing explanations come from advanced democracies and focus on simple cost-benefit analyses. Candidates enter a race as opposition if the expected benefits of becoming a legislator exceed the risks of standing. Weghorst explores how this framework fails to account for opposition candidacy in countries like Tanzania, where opposition prospects of winning power are so low and the risks of violence and intimidation are so high. This question is critical because cases where the ruling party is hegemonic and the playing field is uneven, like Tanzania, are the norm, not the exception.

Weghorst argues that the eve of the campaign is not the correct juncture to understand why opposition politicians stand. In the absence of well-institutionalized opposition parties, it is in civil society organizations that future opposition candidates earn their stripes resisting the regime. This sets them on a path toward opposition candidacy while regime politicians take a very distinct path to candidacy through service to the ruling party, often starting in childhood. That means the candidate’s election-time deci

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