Monday, April 17, 2017

The Semi-Authoritarian's Handbook

Writing for Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman distills from the Erdogan experience in Turkey a sort of "instruction manual" for soft autocrats, leaders he calls the semi-authoritarians.
The new authoritarians’ playbook calls for maintaining regular elections and the outward forms of multiparty democracy, while in fact consolidating power and cooking the books just enough to keep winning the popular vote. Erdogan, like his emulators and colleagues, has weakened the free press and free speech without completely shutting down all alternative political voices. 
That briefly describes what one does, here Feldman says why it works:
By maintaining at least the basic forms of constitutional democracy, the semi-authoritarian avoids alienating the opposition to the extent that it will try to overthrow him.

Of course the new semi-authoritarians might fantasize about total power. But their real fantasy seems to be getting re-elected forever by more than 50 percent of an adoring public.

It’s not a coincidence that these leaders’ parties are all populist. And populism glories in speaking for “the people,” defined narrowly enough to exclude the opposition.

The last self-interested twist in the semi-authoritarians’ strategy is that they are keeping their options open should they lose popularity someday. Most true dictators are assassinated or end their lives in prison or exile.

It emerges that semi-authoritarianism is a terrific way to stay in power so long as you have a populist base and a willingness to erode free speech and free elections.
In addition to the European examples Feldman gives, his model describes the behavior of Maduro in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador, Ortega in Nicaragua, the Lees in Singapore and some others. One wonders if he also means to obliquely include Trump. It's harder here as our presidents are Constitutionally limited to two terms.