Authoritarian Pluralism: Why Does the Chechen Government Promote Customary Law and Sharia?

Egor Lazarev (University of Toronto)

Abstract: When and why do authoritarian governments in the post-colonial states promote non-state legal orders, such as customary law and Sharia, that seemingly undermine state monopoly on rule-making and enforcement? The conventional wisdom is that non-state legal orders persist in post-colonial settings due to weak state capacity, path dependency, or culture. In contrast, I argue that promotion of non-state legal orders is a rational political strategy pursued by political leaders who aim for 1) gaining additional legitimacy; 2) increasing discretion; 3) coalition-building, and 4) signaling autonomy vis-à-vis the metropole. If the benefits are so appealing, why then do some political leaders pursue this strategy, while others don’t? I assume that the major costs for a ruler are that non-state legal forums might be hijacked by the challengers to their rule and that the metropole might punish the peripheral leaders for undermining the established legal order. Therefore, I argue that the promotion of non-state legal orders depends on the relative strength of the authoritarian ruler vis-à-vis the potential local opposition and the metropole. I develop this argument with an in-depth analysis of Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule (2007-present). I put contemporary Chechnya in historical and comparative perspectives with the de facto independent Chechnya (1991-1999) and the neighboring region of Ingushetia. The analysis highlights the political logic of informal institution-building.

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