Government & Governance – Autocracy & Democracy

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Governance and good governance
Council of Europe
Centre of Expertise for Good Governance

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
International IDEA

Difference between Tyranny and Dictatorship

Xi Versus the Street
The Protests in China Could Herald a Turbulent New Era
By Ian Johnson, Stephen A. Schwarzman Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
(Foreign Affairs) Just last month, Xi seemed poised to rule unchallenged for years to come. But his frittering away of his first decade in power on control measures instead of forward-looking reforms means that China’s problems have become tangible for ordinary people. This is the real meaning of the COVID protests: they are not simply cries for personal freedom but signal the start of a more turbulent era in Chinese politics.

18 November
Democracy’s Dunkirk
By Tom Nichols
The authoritarians at home and abroad have faced some reversals, but Americans should consider the midterm elections as only a respite. Liberal democracy remains in danger in the United States and around the world.
It’s Not Over

(The Atlantic Daily) November has been a good month for democracy. Brazil’s autocratic president, Jair Bolsonaro, authorized the transfer of power after losing in national elections to a left-wing challenger. Russia’s murderous army is literally on the run in Ukraine. And American voters went to the polls and defied both history and expectation: They left the Senate in the hands of Democrats, gave the House to the Republicans by only a tiny majority, and crushed the electoral aspirations of a ragtag coalition of election deniers, Christian nationalists, and general weirdos.
That’s the good news. But as relieved as I am that some of my darkest worries did not come to pass last week, democracy is still in danger. What happened last week was an important electoral victory that allows all of us to fight another day—specifically, two years from now. Without the defeat of the deniers in 2022, the 2024 elections would likely have fallen into chaos and perhaps even violence. Both are still possibilities. But voters rallied and turned back the worst and most immediate threats to the American system of government.
As I wrote a few days ago, Trump’s 2024 candidacy confronts us, once and for all, with a decision about what kind of country we are. I hope that the Republicans deny him their nomination: A spirited fight within the GOP that ends by flushing Trump out of the American political system would be good for the Republicans and for America. But I have no faith in the regenerative power of a party that has devolved into an anti-constitutional, violent movement led by cowards and opportunists.

World Forum for Democracy 2022
Democracy: A New Hope?
7-9 November 2022
The 10th World Forum for Democracy (7-9 November 2022) will look for the key contributing factors to democratic decline, consider how these might be addressed, and explore what kind of democratic future is desirable, and possible, in the interests of people across the world.

Good Democratic Governance among the key reforms for Ukraine
A High-level Dialogue “Good Democratic Governance in Ukraine: achievements, challenges and the way forward in post-war period” was held in Strasbourg in the Council of Europe Headquarters during the 2022 World Forum for Democracy.
The dialogue, initiated upon the request of the Ukrainian Parliament, was organised and facilitated by the Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Democracy and Human Dignity in co-operation with the Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe.
Within the dialogue, the participants discussed challenges and perspectives of good democratic governance in the post-war period, focusing on the main five areas…

10 October
What Will Happen to America if Trump Wins Again? Experts Helped Us Game It Out.
The scenarios are … grim.
(WaPo) To help game out the consequences of another Trump administration, I turned to 21 experts in the presidency, political science, public administration, the military, intelligence, foreign affairs, economics and civil rights. They sketched chillingly plausible chains of potential actions and reactions that could unravel the nation. “I think it would be the end of the republic,” says Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz, one of the historians President Biden consulted in August about America’s teetering democracy. “It would be a kind of overthrow from within. … It would be a coup of the way we’ve always understood America.”

6 October
American Christianity Is on a Path Toward Being a Tool of Theocratic Authoritarianism
As nonevangelical faiths lose adherents, it won’t be too long before the vast majority of Christians in America are seriously right wing. This is not good.
(The New Republic) having conservative religions joined at the hip with an authoritarian single-party state can only end badly. There are two awful examples literally in the headlines today.
First there is the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Kirill. He’s been one of Vladimir Putin’s most loyal allies and has been willing to put the church’s blessing on virtually anything Putin does. This includes supporting Russian actions in Ukraine in the name of stamping out the corrupting Western influence of homosexuality and protecting the Russky mir (Russian world).
What we’re seeing in Iran is what happens when a sclerotic, gerontocratic, authoritarian theocracy tries to impose its will on a younger population that no longer accepts the legitimacy of the government and also rejects some of its core religious teachings. Protests erupted over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini being tortured and killed by “morality police” for wearing her hijab the “wrong” way. Women have responded by tearing off their head scarves and burning them. Men have attacked police, and riots have racked the country for weeks. The internet has been shut down, and at least 75 people have been killed so far. The Iranian regime has reportedly lost control of a predominantly Kurdish town on the border as well.
This is what the U.S. has in store if we continue along the path we’re going down: Christianity is becoming primarily a political identity in service of an ideology dedicated to creating a single-party theocratic state.

30 September
What the new Italian government means for Europe
Brussels should not accept everything the new Italian government proposes, but a fair and honest relationship is what Italy and Europe needs.
Manuela Moschella, Associate Fellow, Europe Programme
(Chatham House) There is a spectre haunting Europe these days. No, it’s not communism but the rise of far-right parties. In less than a month, far-right parties have been swooped up big chunks of popular votes in countries as different as Sweden and Italy.
However, it is the large electoral victory of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, and the likely designation of Meloni as prime minister of the new Italian government, that has so far attracted the most serious concerns. Her party’s ambivalent relationship with its fascist roots has indeed sparked anxiety about the prospect of Italian democracy and the country’s loyalty to the European project.

29 September
On the front lines of the fight against strongman politics
(CBC Radio Ideas) Looking at a map of the world, it’s clear in the last 30 years the presence, demise, and return of authoritarian governments has contracted and expanded like an accordion.
Despite this decades-long turn, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States came as a shock and signalled that even the longest-standing democracy of modern times was not safe.
The strongman, long associated with the dictators and tyrants of the postcolonial world, had now found his way to the rich west.
Strongman politics are nothing new but its embrace among democracies — new and old — feels confusing and overwhelming. There are similarities among these leaders in the use of a muscular, exclusionary rhetoric, strident nationalism, the invocation of a more glorious but mythical past, and the abandonment of the long-held liberal ideal of equal rights for all.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance — International IDEA — authoritarianism is expanding not just in terms of the presence of autocratic government but also in terms of democratic governments engaging in similar repressive tactics including restricting free speech and weakening both the rule of law and democratic institutions.
The institute points out that “over a quarter of the world’s population now live under democratically backsliding governments, including some of the world’s largest democracies, such as Brazil, India and three EU members — Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. Together with those living in non-democratic regimes, they make up more than two-thirds of the world’s population.”

Anne Applebaum: The Bad Guys Are Winning
If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.
(The Atlantic) Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources—the troll farms that promote one dictator’s propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another—and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America. (15 November 2021)

September/October 2022
Spirals of Delusion
How AI Distorts Decision-Making and Makes Dictators More Dangerous
By Henry Farrell, Abraham Newman, and Jeremy Wallace
(Foreign Affairs) …thinking about AI in terms of a race for dominance misses the more fundamental ways in which AI is transforming global politics. AI will not transform the rivalry between powers so much as it will transform the rivals themselves. The United States is a democracy, whereas China is an authoritarian regime, and machine learning challenges each political system in its own way. The challenges to democracies such as the United States are all too visible. Machine learning may increase polarization—reengineering the online world to promote political division. It will certainly increase disinformation in the future, generating convincing fake speech at scale. The challenges to autocracies are more subtle but possibly more corrosive. Just as machine learning reflects and reinforces the divisions of democracy, it may confound autocracies, creating a false appearance of consensus and concealing underlying societal fissures until it is too late.
… What is much less well understood is that democracy and authoritarianism are cybernetic systems, too. Under both forms of rule, governments enact policies and then try to figure out whether these policies have succeeded or failed.

23 August
The autocratic world will split before the west does
The US must act in a patient, even cynical way that stokes divisions among its illiberal adversaries
Janan Ganesh
(Financial Times) Autocrats tend to fall out. The chauvinism that turns them against the west doesn’t suddenly dissolve in their relations with each other. From Operation Barbarossa to the Iran-Iraq war, what saved the liberal cause in the 20th century, besides American power, was the elusiveness of a common front against it.
The west must ensure the same thing happens in the 21st century. This means cultivating rogue regimes at times. It means teasing out the tensions between them. Autocracies are no less prone to quarrel than they were 50 years ago, when Richard Nixon shook Zhou’s hand amid the Peking-Moscow rift. The question is whether the west still has the art and cynicism to exploit the fact.
This summer, Joe Biden bumped fists with the Saudi crown prince that he wasted 18 months shunning as a brute. The displeasure of US liberals was loud. But it will be as nothing next to the rage of the right if he makes a similar overture to Iran. Gingerly, the White House is testing domestic opinion in advance of a potential revival of the nuclear pact.
There are sound enough arguments against either or both of these rapprochements. But they must be weighed against the fact that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have alternative suitors in China and Russia. Both also have the wherewithal to ease the west’s energy problem. Even if, adjusting for all that, it is still right to freeze them out, the US will have to form relations of convenience with other unpleasant regimes in future. Or maintain existing ones. It cannot do so if it commits to a “democracies versus autocracies” framing of the world.
Fears abound of western exhaustion with the Ukraine war. The historical record suggests the authoritarian world will fracture first: if not over this, then something else. While liberal countries tend to be liberal in much the same way, there are flavours of autocracy, and they pair badly. The ethnic chauvinist hates the universal Marxist. The cleric hates the colonel. Two theocracies of different denominations hate each other. “Axis” was a kind word for a group of second world war belligerents — Germany, Italy and Japan — that rarely viewed each other as racial or civilisational equals.

13-14 August
As Right-Wing Rhetoric Escalates, So Do Threats and Violence
Both threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life. Experts blame dehumanizing and apocalyptic language
(NYT) The armed attack this week on an F.B.I. office in Ohio by a supporter of former President Donald J. Trump who was enraged by the bureau’s search of Mr. Trump’s private residence in Florida was one of the most disturbing episodes of right-wing political violence in recent months.
But it was hardly the only one.
In the year and a half since a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life, affecting school board officials, election workers, flight attendants, librarians and even members of Congress, often with few headlines and little reaction from politicians.
Several right-wing or Republican figures reacted to the search of Mar-a-Lago not only with demands to dismantle the F.B.I., but also with warnings that the action had triggered “war.”

10 August
Most Americans support using the popular vote to decide U.S. presidents, data shows
There have been five presidents who won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote — John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
(NPR) Most Americans support using the popular vote and not the electoral college vote to select a president, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Opinions on the systems varied sharply according to political party affiliation. 80% of Democrats approve of moving to a popular vote system, while 42% of Republicans support the move. Though, many more Republicans support using the popular vote system now than after the 2016 election, when support was at 27%. There is also an age divide: 7 out of 10 Americans from ages 18 to 29 support using the popular vote, compared to 56% in Americans over 65 years old.

9 August
F.B.I. Search Ignited Violent Rhetoric on the Far Right
Some pro-Trump media figures reacted to the search at Mar-a-Lago with talk of ‘war,’ the clearest outburst of such language since the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
the reaction this week to the F.B.I.’s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Fla., went far beyond the usual ire and indignation. Pro-Trump influencers, figures in the media and a Republican candidate for office employed the language of violence to rally opposition.
“Tomorrow is war,” Steven Crowder, a conservative commentator with 1.9 million Twitter followers, wrote on the site within hours of the search. “Sleep well.”

3 August
Nobody Wants the Current World Order
How All the Major Powers—Even the United States—Became Revisionists
(Foreign Affairs) Major powers exhibit what may be called “revisionist” behavior, pursuing their own ends to the detriment of the international order and seeking to change the order itself. Often, revisionism takes the shape of territorial disputes, particularly in the Indo-Pacific: China’s friction with its neighbors India, Japan, Vietnam, and others in maritime Asia comes to mind. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a violation of international norms and a further rebuke to the notion that Russia could find a comfortable role within a U.S.-led order in Europe. Revisionism also manifests in the actions of a plethora of other powers, including the growing skepticism about free trade in the United States, the military build-up in once-pacifist Japan, and the rearmament of Germany. Many countries are unhappy with the world as they see it and seek to change it to their own advantage. This tendency could lead to a meaner, more contentious geopolitics and poorer global economic prospects. Coping with a world of revisionist powers could be the defining challenge of the years ahead.
The United States has turned away from international institutions it built, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. It has stepped back from its commitments to free trade by withdrawing from agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The view from Washington has grown darker, with great power threats looming on the horizon: not only China but also Russia, which has in many ways been expelled from the international order that sought to remake it in the image of the West.
China was the greatest beneficiary of the globalized order led by the United States. It now wants, in President Xi Jinping’s words, to “take center stage.”
geopolitics grows more fractured and less cohesive. A world of revisionists is one in which each country goes its own way. The globalized world economy is fragmenting into regional trading blocs, with partial decoupling attempted in the areas of high technology and finance, and ever fiercer contention between the powers for economic and political primacy. In the process, a much more dangerous world is emerging.

31 July
Kevin Boyle: We Are Living in Richard Nixon’s America. Escaping It Won’t Be Easy
(NYT) Not the America of Nixon’s last years, though there are dim echoes of it in the Jan. 6 hearings, but the nation he built before Watergate brought him down, where progressive possibilities would be choked off by law and order’s toxic politics and a Supreme Court he’d helped to shape.
Nixon’s version of law and order has endured, through Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, George H.W. Bush’s Crime Control Act of 1990 and Bill Clinton’s crime bill to broken windows, stop-and-frisk and the inexorable rise in mass incarceration. The ideological vetting of justices has increased in intensity and in precision.
… Nothing matters more, though, than shattering Nixon’s fusion of race, crime and fear. To do that, liberals must take up violent crime as a defining issue, something they have been reluctant to do, and then relentlessly rework it and try to break the power of its racial dynamic by telling the public an all-too-obvious truth: The United States is harassed by violent crime because it’s awash in guns, because it has no effective approach to treating mental illness and the epidemic of drug addiction, because it accepts an appalling degree of inequality and allows entire sections of the country to tumble into despair.
Making that case is a long-term undertaking, too, as is to be expected of a project trying to topple half a century of political thinking. But until Nixon’s version of law and order is purged from American public life, we’re going to remain locked into the nation he built on its appeal, its future shaped, as so much of its past has been, by its racism and its fear.

29 July
Bureaucratic commitment to local government service: Lessons from Zambia
(Brookings) Globally, local governments have significant responsibilities for delivering agriculture, education, and health services, and they increasingly are forging their own strategies for
tackling climate change, supporting sustainable food systems, and promoting gender equality. In fact, over the last three decades, most regions of the world have experienced progressively greater decentralization, a trend sometimes christened the “silent revolution.” Despite this broader trend, decentralization faces various challenges that hinder its intended effectiveness. For example, high turnover and low retention of skilled civil servants at the local government level undermine continuity in service provision, reduce public sector accountability to communities for project implementation, and often necessitate additional outlays in scarce resources for training new staff. In our new journal article [Organizational commitment in local government bureaucracies: The case of Zambia], we examine the factors affecting bureaucrats’ continued commitment to local government service in Zambia, which has a long tradition of pursuing greater decentralization.

25 July
Paul Wells: Winning is easy. Governing’s hard.
Is it too much to hope for a better government?

23 May
Governance for Resilience: How Can States Prepare for the Next Crisis?
Frances Z. Brown
(Carnegie) Trend lines around a series of domestic and multinational governance issues, including climate change, migration, rising geopolitical tensions, and citizen alienation from governing institutions, suggest that complex, interlinked crises will be features of the future. While national and multilateral policymakers should work to alleviate the drivers of such crises, they must also strive to prepare their countries to adapt and recover from complex shocks. In short, they must try to build resilience.


17 June
Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine
Politicians around the world are borrowing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” tactics. These false fraud allegations are profoundly dangerous.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) … Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate?

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