Blog Prompt for 2/1/17

On page 13 of the article by Gerardo Munck and Jay Verkuilen, we see a diagram that attempts to break down democracy as a concept into its constituent parts (in this case, contestation and participation).  For this week’s blog post, I’d like you try to design a similar diagram, drawing on our discussions of democratic definitions, the democratic indices discussed by Munck and Verkuilen, and the Polity IV user’s manual. You can do it in prose, or if you prefer, draw and scan/photograph your own diagram and upload it (using the “add media” button, 7 mb max file size).

Autocracies in Disguise

This, I will say has been one of the reasons why it seem difficult to define democracy. And whether it should a thin or thick definition. These institutions mimic a democracy and in some cases, one is n0t sure where to place them. As to whether they are a complete democracy or not.

For the sake of this question, I will say that they are actually autocracies in disguise. These states, for them not to lose their international standing portray on the outside what looks like a democracy – so as to be counted as such – but the citizens experience something different.

The fact that elections are held frequently and the presence of democratic institutions doesn’t necessarily means it is a democracy. Again, that is why it is difficult to define the term “democracy.” Else, all of such democracy-looking autocratic states will conveniently fall within the bracket.

I will add that, the presence of some of those democratic institutions is what is keeping them from a total collapse. However, they are autocratic states- who when given the chance, will show their true identity and completely take over the playing field.

1/30 Blog Post

After reading the Zakaria, Levitsky and Way, and Diamond articles for today’s meeting, I have arrived at the conclusion that no, “illiberal democracies” and “competitive authoritarian” regimes do not represent steps toward democracy. While it is true that they do conform to the most basic definitions of democracy (Zakaria 1997, 25), without the necessities of liberal democracy such as free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and an even political playing field, these hybrid regimes remain a comfortable and profitable alternative to traditional hard-line authoritarianism (Levitsky and Way 2012, 53).

Levitsky and Way (2010) emphasize the difference between incumbent advantage and an uneven political playing field, saying that such inequality exists when the opposition’s ability to organize is handicapped, the dominant party abuses state resources and institutions for partisan causes, and the dominant party enjoys exclusive favoritism in the government (Levitsky and Way 2010, 58). Resource and media access also dramatically skew the balance of power in the incumbent’s direction (Levitsky and Way 2010, 58-59). Regimes that possess these characteristics offer the best of both worlds to autocrats by allowing them to maintain the facade of democracy while being decently assured that they will maintain their dominance (Levitsky and Way 2010, 60).

One particular point I found especially interesting concerns proximity to the West in influencing the path of competitive authoritarian regimes in the 1990s– the closer and more connected these regimes were to the more robust democratic systems, the more likely they were to shed their vestiges of authoritarianism. The opposite was also true (Levitsky and Way 2002, 60). This more than likely finds at least partial grounding in Zakaria’s point about the necessity of a strong institutional tradition (Zakaria 1997, 29).
Thus, it would appear that many competitive authoritarian regimes are susceptible to the specific time periods and context to which they are subject. According to Diamond’s article, now is a period in which the international tide is turning against the liberal order. Given this trend, we must consider what it portends for the future of competitive authoritarian regimes.

To conclude, I found one quote in particular from Levitsky and Way (2010) to perfectly sum up my feelings on today’s readings and the blog prompt: “Regimes in which opposition victories are heroic exceptions rather than the norm should not be labeled democratic” (Levitsky and Way 2010, 62).

Illiberal Democracies and Competitive Authoritarianism

Today’s readings ultimately reinforced the concept that a majority of “illberal democracies” and “competitive authoritarian” countries aren’t moving closer to a truly democratic government.  As Zakaria underscores, there is a marked difference between a country which boosts a liberal democracy from one which offers a more traditional version of democracy.  Whereas a liberal democracy includes not only democratic institutions but civil liberties, the rule of law, and a separation of powers, the more traditional idea of democracy focuses solely on institutions.  Here, I would turn to our class discussions, in which we’ve concluded that offering democratic institutions isn’t enough: just as Levitsky and Way mention, there must be a level playing field, otherwise authoritarianism ultimately still prevails.  Unequal access to media, state institutions, and resources handicap citizens and allow the predominant ruling parties within a country to continue manipulating the system.

It would appear, therefore, that these governing bodies are democratic in name only.  The fact that a country can have these bodies while still allowing for majority parties to continue ruling for years on end should signify the lack of true, liberal democracy.  Additionally, I find it of great interest that Freedom House separates their rankings of political and civil liberties as a means of judging the levels of freedom throughout the world (Zakaria 23), as if to indicate that the two factors can and should be linked, but often are not.  Just as the level of a country’s democracy can be placed on a sliding scale, rating greater as it provides additional civil liberties for its citizens, so too can it decrease as otherwise democratic institutions allow for a country’s majority party to decrease those liberties.  Here then, is the importance of ties to especially highly rated Western democratic countries, as Levitsky and Way argue that these relationships raise the cost of authoritarian entrenchment (60), especially as other nations pursue the subversion of democracy for their own purposes, as Diamond argues regarding Russia.

Hybrid & Illiberal Democracies

We’ve discussed previously in class how the connotation behind the word “democracy” can feign security and true democratic stability when that may not actually exist in a given case. We’ve also discussed “waves” of democratization throughout contemporary political history. These two ideas play an important role in understanding how these governmental amalgamations operate. While we’ve discussed that we are in the third “wave” of democratization, and quite a few governments have established self-identified democracies, it’s important to look back at how we’ve begun to identify democracies and what exactly constitutes democratic government, using conjecture from Dahl and similar political scholars. With that context in mind, identifying the political nature of the regimes discussed in today’s texts becomes somewhat more clear.

This prompt requires the analysis of the current state of these “illiberal democracies” given some historical context, so that we can evaluate if liberal democracy is the logical next step in the evolution of these governments. As discussed by Fareed Zakaria, for these newly democratized countries, emphasis was placed solely upon democratic institutions, with liberal values being ultimately ignored. A very important distinction that I agree with Zakaria on is the idea that a foundation of liberal values leads to democracy, but a foundation of democratic institutions doesn’t necessarily lead to liberalism. There are regimes, especially in Central Europe, that have made effective transitions from autocracies to liberal democracies. However, their success in liberal democratization can largely be accredited to their previous colonial rule by the British.

An important question that I considered was whether or not democracies and autocracies are mutually exclusive types of governments. According to the definitions of democracy provided by Levitsky and Way along with the existence (or lack thereof) of liberal values and ideals, I’d argue that the two aren’t distinct. To answer the prompt, I feel as if the “illiberal democracies” that exist today are indeed stable autocracies in disguise, as evidenced by their nondemocratic practices to effectively nullify their democratic institutions. Whether or not they can transition into liberal democracies wholly depends on if they can constitutionally establish unequivocally liberal values. The current wave of democratization is just that: an increase in governments with democratic institutions. Unfortunately for the sake of liberal democracy, there’s not a wave of liberalization that goes alongside the wave of democratization.

Illiberal Democracies, Competitive Authoritarianism, and Democracy- Oh my

Illiberal democracies and competitive authoritarian regimes aim to encompass the underlying components of democracy that essentially equate to equality in every levels. However, these democratic components, as argued by Levitsky and Way, do not invoke systematic favorability, the inability for opposition and the processes to be partisan as seen in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes. These regimes are specifically gaged to forbid the levels of accessibility, accountability and competition that are necessary in democratic institutions.

Therefore, no, the countries mentioned that are illiberal democracies or competitive authoritarian regimes are not moving toward a democracy. In Levitsky and Way’s piece states that the now reality of countries that have transitioned out of these two regimes are moving towards a full authoritarian regime. Though one should always take another’s view as a grain of salt, these regimes are not transitioning to dismantle the incumbent nor are they attempting to stabilize a fair multiparty system.

Does it look democratic? Does it smell democratic? Offer elections as a form of democratic practice? Then it must mean that they are pursuing the role of a democratic nation! Well, not exactly. A country having elections does not mean that they are going to be heading toward upholding future democratic standards, nor does it mean that it will not succumb to hidden abuse from within. Diamond offers a fine example of recent elections that were supposedly fair and free to all peoples, but were influenced, disrupted and driven by an outsider’s agenda. These levels of abuse question current democracies as well as questioning transitioning regimes ability to have “…effective de-linking of state and party,” (Levitsky and Way, p 64) If the results are not favorably, even when engaging in irrational tactics to push a specific agenda, the incumbent will assume the authority to overturned or overlooked results.

Word count: 299

Master of Disguise…Under construction…(Blog post # 2_01.20.17)

The “illiberal democracies” or “competitive authoritarians” are NOT making any progress towards democracy by the virtue of their hybrid institutions. As we have read in the writings of Zakaria, Levitsky and Way, and Diamond, these hybrid institutions are never meant to create any even platform for everybody. In those hybrid institutions, there will always be a hierarchical imbalance among different stakeholders coming in one platform. To use the exact words of Levitsky and Way, the “uneven playing field” will only serve better to those persons who are already in power. Entering into a dialogue with a disadvantageous position can never give a solution in which necessities of the majority reflects. Democracy, from my personal opinion, is the process of reflecting the necessities (I am talking about necessities, not the opinion) of the majority in such a way it never creates a hindrance for the minority to protect and achieve their necessities. It sounds very much like the definition of sustainable development, yes I agree! But should not democracy help the country availing a sustained progress in every matter? Hence, democracy needs to provide, as Zakaria has provided a good list, a variety of engaging political and social rights among different stakeholders, informed participants and multiparty elections. Unavailability of these elements can turn a country into “illiberal democracies.” I think, any country can turn into this “illiberal democracy” or “competitive authoritarian” even from an old democracy depending on the political transition of that country. May be we are in the verge of seeing such an example in the upcoming decade. Thus, I think, the probability presence of “stable autocracies in disguise” is everywhere, not only in the “illiberal democracies” or “competitive authoritarian.”


Word Count: 279

Hybrid Democracies and Liberal Democracies

It is easy to think from an American perspective that many of the regimes described in Levitsky and Way’s articles are democratic. Certainly they have the institutions, seemingly free and fair elections, maybe even a constitution protecting various rights, so how can they not be called democratic? But Levitsky and Way point out convincingly that the “uneven playing field” of these hybrid regimes results from discrete forms of sabotage on opposition parties and groups, such as intimidation, draining of funds, and restricted media access. The mere possibility of opposition victory, they argue, is not sufficient for democracy. Thus, I believe that it is an illusion that these regimes make progress towards democracy when there are fundamental problems like unequal access to the press and unequal access to the law for the opposition. Furthermore, these hybrid regimes are inherently contradictory and do not pass the test of scrutiny upon close evaluation to pass as a full democracy.

Fareed Zakaria makes a key distinction between “democracy” and “constitutional liberalism”. He associates the term democracy with meaning presence of multiparty elections, wide enfranchisement, and other social and political rights. On the other hand, constitutional liberalism incorporates the government’s goals like the rule of law, checks and balances, and personal liberty. Using this framework, countries described in Levitsky and Way can be considered democracies, but not liberal democracies. Singapore, for example, meets the rudimentary conditions for democracy by having elections, basic liberties, and stable institutions. However, opposition to the People’s Action Party is essentially disallowed and other political liberties are restricted. Countries like Singapore reflect more stable autocracies than liberal democracies because the lack of a true uncertainty of the election outcome and the heavy inequality of institutions and between parties.

Hybrid Democracy

This week’s readings discussed how democracy and liberalism can be mutually exclusive and one doesn’t necessary coincide with the other. The liberties associated with Western democracy are the exception rather than the rule and many countries that claim to be democratic lack, what many would consider, fundamental elements for democratic rule. Way and Levitsky discuss how many incumbents in quasi-democratic countries use their powers to marginalize any competition. This includes control over state media, majorly disproportionate economic access, and undisguised bribery/coercion. They claim that the “skewed playing field” leads to a democratic hybrid regimes that allow “autocrats to retain power without sacrificing international legitimacy.” They also discussed that the sphere of influence is a key determinant to weather a country makes a successful transition to liberal democracy. Those with a closer proximity to the West had a much higher success rate than those closer to China or Russia. However, I think this may be up for discussion because many western linked South American and African countries seem to oscillate between liberal democracies and hybrid democracies.

As stated in Zakaria’s article “liberal democracy might prove not to be the destination on the democratic road but just one of the many exits.” If an incumbent can maintain power than they can maintain stability, they don’t necessarily need to transition from their hybrid model to the western model. Liberalism may almost always coincide with democracy but it doesn’t work the other way around. Autocrats who arrest opponents, muzzle dissents, and skew the election playing field can still maintain some semblance of democratic practice, thus maintaining international legitimacy. I think the illusion of procedural elections and competitiveness can be maintained if the incumbents in power can maintain the hold on state media and resource allocation, especially in countries with high poverty rates and poor education systems.