Position Taking or Position Ducking? A Theory of Public Debate in Single-Party Legislatures
Are representatives in authoritarian legislatures encouraged to take positions on salient issues? More generally, why do some autocracies allow public debate on hot topics at all? Understanding the dynamics of public legislative debate is important for the roles authoritarian legislatures are theorized to play in regime legitimation and information provision. I argue that the decision to allow public debate depends on autocratic incentives to mobilize public sentiment against the bureaucracy. While allowing debate on salient issues risks galvanizing antiregime sentiment, doing so may also mobilize public opinion against wayward government officials to improve performance and deflect blame. Therefore, I predict that autocrats will only allow public debate on issues they have delegated to the government. I test this using an automated content analysis of debate in the Vietnam National Assembly, with results showing evidence of position taking on salient issues, but only on issues the party delegates to the state.