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Challenge of Semi-Authoritarianism

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Abstract:

The post-cold war world has seen the rise of an increasing number of regimes that cannot be easily classified as either authoritarian or democratic, but display some characteristics of each- in short, they are semi-authoritarian regimes. These regimes have adopted some of the formal traits of democracy, such as constitutions providing for the separation of powers and contested presidential and parliamentary elections, and they allow some degree of political freedom to their citizens; nevertheless, they are able to protect themselves from open competition that might threaten the tenure of the incumbents.

Such regimes abound in the former Soviet Union: in countries like Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan, for example, former communist bosses have transformed themselves into elected presidents, but in reality they remain strongmen whose power is barely checked by weak democratic institutions. Semi-authoritarian regimes are also numerous in Sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the multi-party elections of the 1990s have failed to produce working parliaments or other institutions capable of holding the executive accountable.

In the Middle East, tentative political openings in Algeria, Morocco and Yemen appear to be leading to the consolidation of semi-authoritarian regimes rather than to democracy, following a pattern first established by Egypt. In the Balkans, the communist regimes have disappeared, but democracy remains a distant hope even in countries that are at peace. Even more worrisome is the example of Latin America, where steady progress toward democracy has been interrupted by the new semi-authoritarianism of Peru and Venezuela.