Journal article

Oligarchs and Judges: the Political Economy of the Courts in Post-Soviet Unconsolidated Democracies



Published in:

Ideology and Politics Journal


Political Economy
Constitutional Politics

Since 2014, there has been an explosion of judicial interference in the distribution of political and economic power in several post-Soviet countries. Courts have struck down major legislative initiatives, ruled on the formation of governments and overseen revolutionary transfers of power. Contrary to the literature, which suggests that post-Soviet courts are subservient to the executive, these interventions have often been contrary to the interests of the ruling group. This does not mean that these countries have developed ‘independent’ judiciaries in the Western legal understanding, nor does it mean that judicial rulings are available to the highest bidder. Instead, it indicates that under certain conditions judges are capable of semi-autonomous decision making based on some combination of self-preservation, self-interest, or neo-patrimonial ties. This article will argue that when the concentration of political and economic power in the ruling group weakens in unconsolidated democracies these ‘semi-independent’ judicial interventions increase. This weakening of the power vertical and consequent adverse judicial interventions have occurred in Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine since 2014. Meanwhile in Georgia, where a strong power vertical has been maintained despite the handover of executive power, the judiciary remains essentially subservient and judicial interventions are rare.

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