This is the second Brief in the three part series of Briefs by Charles Simkins on democracy and it deals with the interpretation of environments of democracy.

The first brief in this series delineated the uneasy equilibrium between democracy and authoritarianism in the last decade, with advances more or less matched with declines.  This brief will consider some recent interpretations of this environment.


1.The gap between political and civil liberties on the one hand and transparency and the rule of law on the other.


Larry Diamond[1] points out that every region of the world scores worse on the standardized scale of transparency and the rule of law than it does on either political rights or civil liberties.  This indicates extensive neopatrimonialism – a system in which the distinction between private and public interests is blurred within the state, and officials are more concerned with acquiring personal wealth and status than delivering public goods and services.  The correlates are the erosion of democratic checks and balances, hollowing out of accountability and overriding of normative restraints.


2. The largest emerging market countries have been stagnating or slipping backward in the last decade.

There are 27 countries with populations over fifty million or with Gross Domestic Products of more than US $ 200 billion.  Diamond points out that twelve of them had worse average freedom scores at the end of 2013 than they did in 2005[2].  Conditions have also deteriorated in Russia, Egypt and Bangladesh.  Two countries have improved modestly: Singapore and Pakistan.  Others have been stable: Chile, the Philippines, Brazil, India, China, Malaysia, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.


3. It has become clearer that authoritarian breakdown does not necessarily mean democratization.


Levitsky and Way[3] point out authoritarian breakdown can have three main outcomes: democracy, the establishment of a new authoritarian system, or state collapse.  Historically, most authoritarian breakdowns have not produced democratization.  The collapse of an authoritarian regime may usher in a brief period of pluralism which does not lead to democracy.


4. Hybrid regimes, displaying a mixture of democratic and authoritarian features, can stabilise autocracy, but on breakdown have a better chance of transition to democracy than purely authoritarian regimes.

Andrea Cassani[4] points out that hybrid regimes typically have periodic and formally (but not actually) competitive elections.  Elections to legislatures can act as a discontent valve and can be an instrument of gathering information about citizens’ preferences and orientations.  Elections, parties and legislatures may be channels for patronage.  They can fragment and divide the opposition.  A ruling party promotes inter-elite co-operation, shares the distribution of benefits deriving from active support of the government and offers career advancement.  Hybrid regimes are less likely to collapse than pure authoritarian regimes and are often resilient, representing a robust survival strategy.  Democracies may degenerate into hybrid regimes. 


5.Since several global developments have posed a threat to democracies, one might reasonably be surprised at their resilience.

These threats include the 2008 economic crisis, the declining influence of the United States and the European Union, the growing power and self-confidence of China and Russia, and a period (now past) of high oil prices. 


6.Democracy itself is undergoing several important changes.

Philippe Schmitter[5] lists a number of contemporary developments in democracies: the increasing use of referendums and initiatives, public funding for political parties, quotas for women and social minorities as electoral candidates or members of the legislature and executive, devolution of powers to sub-national units, freedom of information legislation, the growing use of social media, the diffusion of human and civil rights across borders, and the growth of guardian institutions such as independent central banks, independent regulatory authorities, electoral commissions, human rights tribunals and anti-corruption agencies. 

Charles Simkins
Senior Researcher


[1] Larry Diamond, Facing up to the Democratic Recession, (eds) Larry Diamond and Marc T Plattner, Democracy in decline?, Johns Hopkins University Press and the National Endowment of Democracy, 2015

[2] The twelve countries are South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Colombia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Turkey , Mexico, Thailand, Ethiopia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia  

[3] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, The Myth of Democratic Recession in (eds) Diamond and Plattner

[4] Andrea Cassani, Hybrid what?  The contemporary debate on hybrid regimes and the identity question, Department of Social and Political Studies, Universita degli Studi di Milano, September 2012

[5] Philippe C Schmitter, Crisis and Transition, but not Decline, in (eds) Diamond and Plattner