This study of five countries-Croatia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Senegal and Venezuela-investigates semi-authoritarian regimes as a type of political system that is distinct from democracy and authoritarianism and also does not represent merely a transitional stage between the two. Marina Ottaway began the discussion by noting that nations had been invited to the International Conference on Democracy, reflecting the huge upsurge in the number of nations that now hold some form of multi-party elections. Unfortunately, in many of these nations democratic change has amounted to little more than the adoption of formal institutions and some opening of political space.
The core of the government's power still remains beyond popular challenge. Democracy does not seem to be arriving by a slow process or consolidating, it seems to be stopped. Ottaway argued that two factors allow nations to exist as semi-authoritarian states: games played by incumbent regimes and structural conditions. Structural conditions common to all the states she studied were polarization along either ethnic or socio-economic lines ; problems of state formation, each of which encouraged the population to view the incumbent regime as a guarantor of stability; and most importantly the shallowness of earlier transitions to democracy.
She noted that the pro-democracy elite in many of these countries has not built a significant constituency or effectively mobilized the population around the issue of democracy. Too often, democracy has been an abstract concept without policy content or, worse, has been associated with unpopular policies dictated by the West, such as extreme economic liberalism.
In light of these structural factors, Ottaway suggested that democracy aid must change in several ways. It may seek to selectively engage with groups and organizations that have significant domestic constituencies. Aid providers must work to re-establish links between policy and politics, helping parties create meaningful and differentiated policy platforms. And political institutions must be deepened, with special attention given to helping legislative bodies play a real role in addressing policy issues.
With democratic values under attack in several Central European member states, the question of whether the EU is actually capable of consolidating democracy through harmonization has pushed its way to the top of the agenda. Continuing assaults on civil society and the media, grand corruption, and flawed elections across the Balkans show that despite the opening of chapters and progress on paper, democratic norms are not taking root. In Montenegro and Serbia, the two Balkan countries furthest along in the accession process, problematic elections in exposed domestic volatility as well as a perfunctory understanding of electoral democracy.
Election day in Montenegro featured a nationwide shutdown of mobile messaging applications and accusations from the authorities that Serbian nationalists had plotted a coup. As of February , prosecutors are seeking the arrest of two opposition leaders in the alleged plot. Nationalist fear-mongering and hate speech also ramped up in , with politicians and progovernment tabloids branding partisan opponents and civil society activists as traitors who serve foreign interests.
In Macedonia, former prime minister Nikola Gruevski implied that opposition leader Zoran Zaev should be assassinated. Many politicians played on ethnic divisions to advance their political goals. In practice, stability has nearly always won out.
But while the EU has been carefully working to keep the peace, its institutional crises and broken promises have eroded its own credibility. The window for the EU to push through transformative reforms in the Balkans may have already closed, unless the union can make a major recommitment to its principles and find the will to confront political leaders who attack its fundamental values. The Democracy Scores of candidates for European Union membership are much lower than those of current member states.
The Nations in Transit project began in with a number of baseline assumptions. One of them was that the countries included in the survey were in transition, but that their movement was unidirectional: Freed from dictatorship, they were leaving their past behind and moving, some slowly, others with haste, toward liberal democracy. Current conditions present a very different picture. The number of consolidated authoritarian regimes has increased to 8, and the number of consolidated democracies has dropped to 7.
Nearly all of the consolidated democracies have shown deterioration in the rule of law and adherence to democratic values. In Nations in Transit , both countries registered wide-ranging downgrades, with drops of 0. Having spent its first years rewriting the constitution, taking over the courts, and warping the electoral system, the government has now snuffed out most of the critical media and built an efficient machine of state capture and grand corruption.
In Poland, the Law and Justice PiS party has proceeded in a manner eerily similar to the first few years of the Fidesz government.
Immediately after winning election in late , PiS mounted an egregious attack on the Constitutional Tribunal and captured the still-influential public media by amending the law on the appointment of its top directors and changing the editorial policy. With a parliamentary supermajority, Fidesz was able to rewrite the constitution and the legislative framework in ways that were formally legal, even though they clearly violated the principles of liberal democracy. The PiS government also ignored several rulings of the tribunal by refusing to publish them in the official register.
By the end of , the party had assumed control of the institution, appointing its own candidate to replace the retiring chief justice. Both Poland and Hungary were exemplars of democratic transformation in the s. The spectacular breakdown of democracy in these countries should serve as a warning about the fragility of the institutions that are necessary for liberal democracy, especially in settings where political norms have shallow roots and where populists are able to tap into broad social disaffection. Despite their apparent maturation, the media, the judiciary, and institutions of democratic representation in Poland and Hungary have turned out to be quite vulnerable, lacking both elite consensus on their inviolability and the necessary public support to turn back partisan attacks.
The reasons for the success of the populist assault on democracy in Central Europe are manifold, but the years following EU accession in have shown that superficial compliance with and outside recognition of democratic norms are no substitute for proper internalization, and can actually engender a dangerous complacency that lays the groundwork for state capture. In Nations in Transit , the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine suffered declines on the Civil Society indicator due to the increased influence of violent extremist and intolerant groups on the public discourse.
These four countries have among the best Civil Society scores in the survey above 2. Violent extremist groups have been noted in a number of other countries covered by the report, but they were not downgraded because the scores were already low enough to account for the presence of such groups. The local causes for the growth in extremist activity vary, but everywhere they thrive, these forces have built on existing societal prejudice and intolerance toward certain minority groups.
In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, the ongoing refugee crisis reawakened illiberal groups and spurred a sharp rise in hate speech and radical mobilization.
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Politicians in all three countries courted the extremists, sometimes explicitly. In Ukraine, the radical right has grown in the context of the war with Russia, which has left nearly 10, Ukrainians dead and understandably generated nationalist sentiment. After playing a major role in confronting the Russian invasion in , far-right paramilitary groups have been pulled off the front lines, but they still play a provocative role in national politics, often with the tacit approval of the government.
In , right-wing protesters sacked the offices of a pro-Russian television station, Inter TV, and radical activists released the names and personal information of dozens of local and international journalists who had entered separatist-held areas of Donbas to report on the war. Violent extremist and radical elements exist in every society, but they are usually relegated to the fringes in consolidated democracies.
The danger in this part of Europe is that such groups—and the normalization of their extremism—will have a harmful influence on the framing of public discourse and eventually on public policy.
Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism – The Cairo Review of Global Affairs
In all of these countries and in many others in the region, mainstream politicians now send rhetorical signals to the extremist fringe to establish their bona fides with a dedicated subculture that scorns liberal democracy. Radicals have successfully pushed other actors to render complex issues in black and white, treating any type of caution or compromise as a betrayal. While truly extremist groups are typically only one part of a diverse civic ecosystem, their growing symbiotic relationships with prominent politicians represent a major threat to democratic norms, which prize rational dialogue and reject violence and persecution of minorities.
Since , they have consistently been among the top five countries in the survey.
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At the same time, their scores have moved very little over the last decade. This raises the question of whether the Baltic states are experiencing stability or stagnation. Unfortunately, the evidence points toward stagnation. There is still room for improvement in the scores of all three countries. Their ratings for corruption in particular are a drag on their overall scores, as is the case in most countries in the report.
High-level corruption often provides an opening for outsider and populist parties, and recent events in the Baltics have revealed popular dissatisfaction with establishment parties.
In Lithuania, an outsider party, the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union LPGU , secured an unexpected plurality in the parliamentary elections after running on a somewhat populist platform. It now governs in coalition with mainstream parties, marking the first time since that a party other than the Social Democrats or Christian Democrats has won the general elections. With Savisaar out, smaller parties leapt at the chance to collaborate with the CP and take revenge on the RP for old slights. Both Latvia and Estonia already have far-right parties in the parliament, and their political debates in featured demonization of refugees a dearth of actual refugees notwithstanding , indicating that some constituencies in these countries are ripe for radicalization.
This is not to say that the Baltic states are about to be engulfed in populism.
Collective memories of Soviet occupation and the continuing threat to Baltic sovereignty from Russia enforce a collective sense of responsibility and an orientation toward Euro-Atlantic institutions that have made populist politics relatively unappealing. Instead, the main risks are that Russia—emboldened by changes in U. The government conducted negotiations with Western oil companies with a view of attracting the sorely needed foreign investment to the oil sector. As Elchibey wrote later, "According to the drafts of the contracts with U.
It is conceivable that such reforms, with time, could have brought positive results. Yet time was a scarce resource, and security problems trumped economic concerns. As Carnegie expert Marina Ottaway described it in ,.
Stephen K. Batalden and Sandra L. Sharpe, , and in particularly chapter 4 entitled "Karabakh: The Black Garden". XXXIV, no.