On March 29, Venezuela dissolved their National Assembly when the Venezuelan Supreme Court seized power from the legislative body. The international community was outraged, as the move was viewed as a power grab by President Nicolás Maduro. By using the Supreme Court, which he packed with people loyal to him, Maduro increased his power by getting rid of the opposition controlled legislature.
It seems that Venezuela may be following an increasing trend toward authoritarian governments. These regimes are best known for forbidding political opposition, controlling the media, manipulating the courts and trying to restrict elections. Freedom House, a non-governmental organization that conducts research on democracies, found that for the first time since 1995, there are more consolidated authoritarian regimes than consolidated democracies in the world.
Frequently, authoritarian regimes hold elections, sometimes falsified or restricted, where the outcome maintains those in power. They hold these elections to prove to the people of their countries and international bodies that they are following the will of the people, when in reality citizens have little to no say in the government.
Although Venezuela is the most recent country to fall to autocracy, Turkey is lining up to be next. Last year after a coup was attempted against the current President Tayyip Erdogan, he used the coup to exert even more power than he had before. Erdogan created a referendum which gave him more power that was not previously outlined in the constitution. Lawmakers proposed changing the constitution, allowing Erdogan to be able to enact emergency measures and seize some power from the prime minister position. Turkish citizens voted on Sunday, April 16, passing the referendum and bringing Erdogan one step close to an authoritarian government.
Looking towards Eastern Europe, Poland and Hungary could potentially move towards authoritarianism. In Hungary, the Prime Minister Viktor Orban passed a law allowing the state to gain control of the press and television, making the government the primary source of news. Most recently, Orban is trying to shut down one of the largest universities in Hungary. Similarly to Hungary, Poland is also slowly shifting towards authoritarianism. The Polish president, Andrzej Duda and his party, right-wing Law and Justice, is known for xenophobic rhetoric and populist stances. Duda after passing unconstitutional laws, took control of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in a move similar to Maduro in Venezuela. Many of these Eastern European authoritarian regimes have been built on xenophobic, populist leaders calling to bring change to their countries, only to take the powers of the government into their own hands.
Two of the strongest authoritarian regimes today are Russia and China. Russia has both directly and indirectly been controlled by Vladmir Putin for almost the entire 21st century. Putin has been able to assert his control across the Russian government and media. Now it is nearly impossible to be in opposition to Putin in Russia whether one is trying to run for office or just speak about against him. In China the Communist Party is in control of the government. After the Arab Spring in 2011, a series of democratic uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the Chinese government increased the harassing of journalists, detented public activists and started to scramble the internet for everyday citizens.
The increase in authoritarianism has not been met without conflict. In Russia, thousands took to the streets in late march to protest the government, many of them students. After Venezuelan President Maduro, moved to dissolve the National Assembly, Venezuelans in over 300 towns and cities took to the streets to protest. When the Polish President Duda passed a law making abortion illegal, around 30,000 Polish citizens protested eventually leading to the collapse of the bill.
The global increase in authoritarianism could be seen as a counter-reaction to the recession of 2008. Global citizens have been unable to economically recover and favor strong leaders with tight government control that make promises about fixing the economy.
“It [the global recession] helped to discredit existing democracies and second it made people afraid. This often leads to looking for an authoritarian style of leadership.” said Graeme Robertson, professor of political science at University of North Carolina.
The rise in authoritarianism could also be linked to the rise in populism. The world is changing faster than we know and people are afraid. Many populist leaders, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, have used that fear to gain power and assert their control further than before. Such leaders may be encouraged by the increase in authoritarian regimes to take even more power for themselves. Some authoritarian regimes could even help each other take power.
“I do think that authoritarian leaders lend each other support from time to time. It is also true that they exchange information on repressive techniques thus helping to stabilize authoritarian rule.” says Professor Robertson.
The current increase in authoritarianism could potential cause even more authoritarian leaders to take power creating a world wide domino effect.
Photo courtesy of BBC.com