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Dictatorship 101

Masks And Death

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This article was originally published by the Carnegie Moscow Center on 14 September 2016.

Some degree of isolationism—“sovereignty,” in official political parlance—is necessary for every authoritarian regime to survive. But elites and societies as a whole don’t want full-blown isolationism. In Russia and elsewhere, “authoritarian internationalism”—an alliance of quasi-democracies—has come to the rescue.

Much of the world currently lives under “intermediary” political regimes. Pure dictatorships are a dying breed, but “shining city upon a hill” democracies are also hard to find. Most countries are “neither here nor there”—they don’t have firing squads to quash dissent, their borders aren’t closed, and they haven’t banned political parties that might compete with the dominant, ruling party.

As political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way have shown, hybrid political regimes tend toward democratization based on three factors: “linkage,” “leverage,” and “organizational power.”

Linkage is the economic and political connection between the regime and the outside world, its involvement in international alliances, agreements, and trade. The higher the level of involvement, the higher the chances of democratization, and vice versa.

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Internet Shutdowns During Political Unrest Are Becoming Normal – And It Should Worry Us

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Courtesy Michael Coghlan / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Political Violence at a Glance on 16 September 2016.

Last night, for the eleventh night in a row, Internet access was shut down in Gabon. Starting again at 7pm, network accessibility almost came to a halt. These “Internet curfews” come in the aftermath of highly contested and controversial national elections. Just over a week ago, Gabon’s incumbent president, Ali Bongo, declared himself winner of the elections by a narrow margin with 49.8 percent of all votes. His opponent, Jean Ping, who allegedly lost with 48.2 percent of votes has demanded a recount, and the international community has backed him up. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the election results, protesters took to the streets and set fire to a parliamentary house, while the opposition reported attacks against their premises by incumbent forces. Throughout the post-election tensions, the government has resorted to extreme digital censorship. Prior to the nightly Internet curfews, connections were cut for more than five days across the country while protesters took to the streets across Libreville, and according to Reuters, thousands were arrested under the charges of rioting.

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The Death of Karimov: The Game for Uzbekistan

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Courtesy Alexandra (Sasha) Lerman/flickr

This article was originally published by the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) on 9 September 2016.

On 2 September (although unofficial reports cited 29 August as the date), the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov died in Tashkent. Formally, the President’s duties are currently being carried out by the leader of the Senate, Nigmatilla Yuldashew (although he has not been sworn in as head of state), and elections to the post of president are to be held over the next three months. Due to the undemocratic nature of the system in Uzbekistan, the successor to Karimov will be decided by an informal fight for the leadership, and not the result of the election. Currently, the most likely successor seems to be the ruling Prime Minister, Shavgat Mirziyayev, who among other indications headed the funeral committee, received the foreign delegations who attended Karimov’s funeral on 3 September, as well as the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, during his surprise visit to Samarkand on 6 September.

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Slow-Motion Coup in Venezuela

Courtesy Antonio Marín Segovia/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 5 August 2016.

Nicolás Maduro was elected president of Venezuela in April 2013 by a narrow margin. His term is due to end in January 2019, unless the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance can force a recall referendum this year – and win it. But does President Maduro really run the country?

In recent weeks Nicolás Maduro appears to have taken a back seat to Venezuela’s top general, defence minister Vladimir Padrino López, who also – unusually – holds the post of operational commander of the armed forces.

On 11 July, Maduro announced that he and Padrino would jointly head a newly-created “Civilian-Military Presidential Command”, charged primarily with resolving the country’s acute shortage of food, medicines and other basic goods. All other ministries and state institutions have been subordinated to this body, whose functions not only cover stimulating production, controlling prices and overseeing distribution and imports of food, but also the country’s security and defence.

The prominence of the military in determining Venezuela’s political future was illustrated once again by the appointment on Wednesday of Néstor Reverol as interior minister. Unlike Padrino, who rose through the army, Reverol hails from the National Guard. His alleged criminal connections – he was promoted to the post of minister after being served a US court indictment the day before for assisting drug traffickers – suggests that different factions in the military may now be jostling for shares of influence in the state.

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Unholy Alliance: Kleptocratic Authoritarians and their Western Enablers

Blood money

Courtesy ccmerino/flickr

This article was originally published by World Affairs in July 2016

It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.

Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.

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