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Illiberal democracy

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Title: Illiberal democracy  
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Subject: Islamic democracy, Totalitarian democracy, Inverted totalitarianism, Democracy, Ochlocracy
Collection: 1997 Introductions, Democracy, Political Systems
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Illiberal democracy

An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, or hybrid regime,[1] is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an "open society". There are many countries "that are categorized as neither 'free' nor 'not free', but as 'probably free', falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes".[2] This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but its liberties are ignored, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist.[3]


  • Terminology 1
  • Description 2
  • Types 3
  • Tentative illustration 4
  • Research 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The term illiberal democracy was used by Fareed Zakaria in a regularly cited 1997 article in the journal Foreign Affairs.[4]

Writers such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way reject the concept of an illiberal democracy, saying it only "muddies the waters" on the basis that it if a country does not have opposition parties and an independent media, it is not democratic.[5] They argue that terms like "illiberal democracy" are inappropriate for some of these states, because the term implies that these regimes are, at their heart, democracies that have gone wrong. Levitsky and Way argue that states such as Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic, Zimbabwe, and post-Soviet Russia, were never truly democratic and not developing toward democracy, but were rather tending toward authoritarian behavior, despite having elections (which were sometimes sharply contested). Thus, Levitsky and Way coined a new term to remove the positive connotation of democracy from these states and distinguish them from flawed or developing democracies: competitive authoritarianism.[6]


According to Zakaria, illiberal democracies are increasing around the world and are increasingly limiting the freedoms of the people they represent. Zakaria points out that in the red tape, economic pressure, imprisonment or violence against its critics. Zakaria believes that constitutional liberalism can bring democracy, but not vice versa.


There is a spectrum of illiberal democracies: from those that are nearly liberal democracies to those that are almost openly dictatorships. One proposed method of determining whether a regime is an illiberal democracy is to determine whether "it has regular, free, fair, and competitive elections to fill the principal positions of power in the country, but it does not qualify as Free in Freedom House's annual ratings of civil liberties and political rights."[7] A 2008 article by Rocha Menocal, Fritz and Rakner describes the emergence of illiberal democracies and discusses some of their shared characteristics.[8]

Tentative illustration

In a 2014 speech

  • The Rise of Illiberal Democracy, Fareed Zakaria, Foreign Affairs, November/ December 1997
  • Liberalism and Democracy: Can't have one without the other, Marc Plattner, Foreign Affairs, March/ April 1998
  • Illiberal Democracy, Five Years Later, Fareed Zakaria, Havard International Review, Summer 2002.

External links

  • Bell, Daniel, Brown, David & Jayasuriya, Kanishka (1995) Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-333-61399-3.
  • Thomas, Nick & Thomas, Nicholas. (1999) Democracy Denied: Identity, Civil Society, and Illiberal Democracy in Hong Kong, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-84014-760-5.
  • Zakaria, Fareed. (2007) The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-33152-3.

Further reading

  1. ^ Juan Carlos Calleros, Calleros-Alarcó,The Unifinished Transition to Democracy in Latin America, Routledge, 2009, p1
  2. ^ O'Neil, Patrick. Essentials of Comparative Politics. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y: W. W Norton & Company, 2010. 162-163. Print.
  3. ^ "Define illiberal". 5 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Fareed Zakaria (November–December 1997). "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 6 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Halperin, M. H., Siegle, J. T. & Weinstein, M. M. The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace. Routledge, 2005. pp. 10. ISBN 978-0-415-95052-7.
  6. ^ Levitsky, Steven & Lucan Way. Assessing the Quality of Democracy, Journal of Democracy, April 2002, vol. 13.2, pp. 51-65
  7. ^ Diamond, Larry & Morlino Leonardo. Assessing the Quality of Democracy, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p. xli
  8. ^ Rocha Menocal, A., Fritz, V. & Rakner, L. "Hybrid regimes and the challenges of deepening and sustaining democracy in developing countries", South African Journal of International Affairs, 2008, 15(1), pp. 29-40
  9. ^ "Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Speech at the 25th Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp". 30 July 2014. And so in this sense the new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organisation, but instead includes a different, special, national approach. 
  10. ^ Mutalib , H. Illiberal democracy and the future of opposition in Singapore. Third World Quarterly, 2000. 21(2), pp. 313-342.
  11. ^ Ma, Ngok. Political Development in Hong Kong: State, Political Society, and Civil Society. Hong Kong University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-962-209-810-7.
  12. ^ Russia had also moved towards a period of democracy in the early 1990s, but whilst elections remain in place, state control of media is increasing and opposition is difficult.ref>Whatever happened to glasnost?, BBC News, February 7, 2009.
  13. ^ .Illiberal Democracy and Vladimir Putin's Russia "Collegeboard". July 2004
  14. ^ Sultan or democrat? The many faces of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, CBC, 5 June 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  15. ^ Miller, Michael K. (2015-10-01). "Electoral Authoritarianism and Human Development". Comparative Political Studies 48 (12): 1526–1562.  


See also

Research shows that multiparty autocratic elections predict significantly better outcomes on health, education, gender equality, and basic freedoms relative to non-electoral autocracy. Health and education outcomes are as strong as those of democracy.[15]


The Russian Federation under Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev has also been described as an illiberal democracy. Elections take place regularly, but many foreign observers (e.g. from the OSCE) do not consider them free or fair. The disturbing rate at which journalists have been murdered in Russia shows the limits of freedom of speech. 13 Russian journalists died between 2000 and 2003. Also, most major television networks and newspapers are owned or controlled by the government and openly support it or parties that support the government during elections.[13][14]

A classic example of an illiberal democracy is the NGOs and academia. Consequently, although technically free and fair multi-party elections are regularly conducted, the political realities in Singapore (including fear and self-censorship) make participation in opposition politics extremely difficult, leaving the dominant ruling party as the only credible option at the polls.[12]


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