Levitsky and Way’s article describes competitive authoritarianism, a type of hybrid regime. Competitive authoritarianism regimes possess many democratic institutions such as elections and civil liberties however, they are often violated or abused to an extent and frequency that separates them from being democratic. The authors list four arenas of democratic contestation in which opposing forces from a competitive authoritarian regime might challenge: the electoral arena, the legislative arena, the judicial arena, and the media. The article provides the various paths that can lead to competitive authoritarianism suggesting that this type of hybrid regime can result from decay of both a democratic as well as a authoritarian regime.1
Although Russia holds a presidential election every six year, current President Vladimir Putin has managed to rule longer than any Russia leader since Stalin. This article from the Economist explains how Putin has managed to hold office for so long despite the occurrence of elections in Russia. Being able to control the media and well as eliminate competition has allowed Putin to convince the people that there is no other alternative. The article describes the elections as less of an election and more of a coronation for the “reigning king”.2
How can holding elections provide the head of government of an authoritarian regime legitimacy?
According to the procedural definition of democracy, a regime must have free and fair elections to be considered democratic. In a competitive democracy, the regime will often hold elections for office but they will most likely not be free nor fair. In Mexico, the PRI party was dominant and in rule for several years. Although Mexico held a presidential election, the PRI manipulated the election so they would win without fault. Similarly, Russia holds elections but Putin has managed to hold office for several terms because he has control over both the media and the competition
- Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” Found in J. Tyler Dickovick, Jonathan Eastwood Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
- “Why Vladimir Putin is Sure to Win the Election” The Economist, May 16, 2018. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/03/16/why-vladimir-putin-is-sure-to-win-the-russian-election.
Venezuela suffered a great loss when president Hugo Chavez passed away in March of 2013. His funeral gathered large crowds consisting of people even from the lowest classes of society. These people were there to say goodbye to the man who has given them a political identity. Many woman considered Chavez not only as their president but also as their, father, brother, and husband. With Chavez’s personality and character being engraved into the political scene, the election for his successor becomes heavily based on support from Chavez fans. For those who mourn Chavez, Maduro was the clear candidate yet his lead was not secure. Opposing candidate Capriles gained momentum in the election closing the gap. Despite the result of the election, either candidate would find themselves in a difficult situation due to the dysfunction of the state.1
Legally a Russian president can only serve for two consecutive terms but this regulation did not create a problem for Putin. In 2018 Putin was elected for his second-second term as president of Russia. In 2024, Putin’s term will be up and he will be forced to leave office. Due to Putin being such a central part of Russia’s political scene, many fear what is to come when Putin steps down from office. Although many people cannot imagine a successor for Putin because he has wiped away most if not all of the viable competition, people fear what will happen if Putin doesn’t step down becoming the next tsar.2
Is it possible to have a peaceful and effortless transition of power in a personalistic regime?
In many authoritarian regimes, the personality of the leader is often reflected in the regime. Many political scientist categorize this type of regime as personalistic authoritarianism. Often in a personalistic regime, the people worship the ruler and many see the leader not only as the “government” of the state, but even as the regime itself. In both present-day Russia and pre-2013 Venezuela, the population could not image a country without the leadership of their presidents. This type of regime can cause problems not only when the character is in power but rather when the leave office because their personality is so ingrained into the regime. The best option for a smooth transition may often be a person with similar ideals and goals as the exiting president, however, this does not guarantee a smooth transition.
- Boris Munoz, “In the Shadow of Chávez,” The New Yorker, (April 13, 3013).
- Shaun Walker, “2018 Election is no problem for Putin–but what about 2024?” The Guardian, (February 6, 2018). https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/06/2018-election-is-no-problem-for-putin-but-what-about-2024.