Defective democracy

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Defective democracies are democracies with certain defects. The concept was proposed by the political scientists Wolfgang Merkel, Hans-Jürgen Puhle and Aurel S. Croissant at the beginning of the 21st century to subtilize the usual distinction of totalitarian, authoritarian, and democratic political systems. It is based on the concept of embedded democracies. There are 4 different forms of defective democracies each varying with specifics of what makes said democracies defective. How each nation reaches the point of being a defective democracy varies on a case by case basis but with many common themes. One recurring theme which has a major impact on the nation’s democracy is the geographical location of the nation. This can have a major impact due to surrounding nations and their influence they can have over other nations in the region. Other causes for defective democracies are: Path of modernization, Level of modernization, Economic trends, Social Capital, Civil Society, Political Institutions, Education.

Healthy democracies[edit]

There are many different forms of defective democracy. In order to fully understand what makes a democracy defective, one must first look at what a democratic form of government is, and what makes said democratic system healthy. A democracy is a system of government in which private citizens exercise their power as citizens of that nation directly by electing officials to the governing body, such as United States House of Representatives.

Healthy democracies consist of many key parts, and without all the parts fitting and working together the democracy can be classified as defective. The key parts to all democracies being universal suffrage, free and fair elections occurring on a recurring basis, more than one ruling political party, multiple sources of information in the country, existing rights for all people, and the voters decision making process being unhindered by country elites or external influencing figures.[1]

Exclusive democracy[edit]

Exclusive democracies are defective democracies due to the fact in these instances not all adult citizens have suffrage. Resulting in unfair elections with no true sovereignty of the people. A major step forward in American democracy occurred with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment brought forward due to the women suffrage movement ensured all citizens in the United States of America have the right to vote, regardless of sex. The passing of said amendment ensured the US would not remain an exclusive democracy.[2]

Domain democracy[edit]

When militaries, entrepreneurs, land-lords, local militias, or multi-national corporations take up certain political domains and veto power from the hands of democratically elected officials, we have a domain democracy. An example of a defective democracy with domain democracy would occur when a military coup takes place and seizes power from the working government. This type of defective democracy occurs mostly in Latin America and southeast Asia.[2]

An example of a Military Coup resulting in a Domain Democracy is in 2017 when Zimbabwe Defense Forces seized control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, key areas in the city, and also placed the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe under house arrest. In this instance the coup was successful and after the resignation of Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangawas peacefully became the 3rd President of Zimbabwe. While Domain Democracy in Zimbabwe was temporary, the Military acted against their sitting president in order to achieve different political goals which the people of Zimbabwe viewed as favorable. Domain Democracy did not last long in Zimbabwe as the Military coup succeeded and Zimbabwe remains, as before, an authoritarian regime, according to the Democracy Index. [3]

Illiberal democracy[edit]

When elected officials are no longer held to constitutional principles due to the deterioration of power held by the judiciary we have illiberal democracies. In these democracies the rule of law is damaged or flawed, the constitutional norms having little or no binding impact on elected officials and their actions. Individual civil rights are either partially nullified or not established. Illiberal democracy is the most common form of defective democracy and can be found across the globe.[2]

Venezuela is an example of an Illiberal Democracy. In 2017 Venezuela held an election for state governors, an election with much controversy behind it. Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, and his United Socialist Party, swept the election, winning 17 of 23 states and 54% of the popular vote. These results were despite the fact that Maduro's approval rating has fluctuated between 17-22%. The campaigns were not fair. Ruling party members used state resources to help their campaigns, giving them a drastic advantage over their rivals. The use of state funds for campaigns is of course, illegal. The reason this was not handled was that the Venezuelan court system had deteriorated to the point it only acted to serve the ruling party, instead of serving true justice. This is what makes Venezuela a defective democracy, among many other factors.[4]

Delegative democracy[edit]

In delegative democracies the Executive branch reigns supreme with the legislature and judiciary having very limited power over the Executive. Constitutional norms are rarely followed with the checks and balances of power required in healthy democracies being undermined.[5]

Delegative democracies commonly happen when there is just one ruling party in a nation. Mexico prior to 1997 is a perfect example. Mexico's ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), ruled supreme unchecked by any competition and ruled the nation as they saw fit. Having a majority in Congress while also controlling the executive branch gave them supreme power over the land, ruling completely unchecked. The PRI's goal was simple, rule with undisputed power. During the PRI's political dominance in Mexico, the nation was a delegative democracy with the executive branch ruling supreme.[6]

Anocratic regimes[edit]

Anocractic regimes are unique in the sense they are not democracies. Instead, anocratic regimes are dictatorships with a democratic institution of legislature. They possess a mixture of both democratic and autocratic attributes which can lead to an increase in conflict within the nation. These types of regimes can exist as long as the ruling elite avoid severe rights abuses and do not steal or cancel elections. Another key to these regimes existing and not crumbling is the ruling regime making sure the rights abuses are not well publicized which would lead to more stir among the people they are ruling over.[7]

Cuba for example, is an anocratic regime. Possessing both autocratic and democratic attributes. In Cuba, President Raul Castro has complete control over the nation through the Communist party. While President Castro has complete control over the nation, there are still democratic attributes. This being the National Assembly of Popular Power. This assembly has roughly 600 members who are elected for five-year terms, by popular vote. None of the elections for Assembly positions are contested elections. So while the nation still has a democratic institute of legislature the elections are predetermined with no contested elections taking place.[8]


  1. ^ Bogaards, Matthijs (2009). "How to classify hybrid regimes?": 399–423. doi:10.1080/13510340902777800.
  2. ^ a b c Merkel, Wolfgang (2004). Democratization Vol.11. Taylor & Francis Ltd. p. 49. ISSN 1351-0347.
  3. ^ Burke, Jason (2017-11-21). "Zimbabwe's strange crisis is a very modern kind of coup". The Guardian. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  4. ^ Toro, Francisco (2017-10-17). "Venezuela's democracy is fake, but the government's latest election win was real". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  5. ^ Merkel, Wolfgang (2004). Democratization Vol.11. Taylor & Francis Ltd. p. 50. ISSN 1351-0347.
  6. ^ Weiss, Stanley (1997-09-17). "Finally, the Days of One-Party Rule Are Finished in Mexico". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  7. ^ Schipani, Matthew J., "Regime Completeness and Conflict: A Closer Look at Anocratic Political Systems." Thesis, Georgia State University, 2010.
  8. ^ "Cuba's Government". Global Security. Retrieved May 7, 2018.


  • Bendel, Petra; Croissant, Aurel; Rüb, Friedbert W., eds. (2002), Zwischen Demokratie und Diktatur: Zur Konzeption und Empirie demokratischer Grauzonen, Opladen: Leske + Budrich, ISBN 3-8100-3087-2
  • Krennerich, Michael (2005), "Defekte Demokratie", in Nohlen, Dieter; Schultze, Rainer-Olaf (eds.), Lexikon der Politikwissenschaft: Theorien, Methoden, Begriffe, 1 (3rd ed.), München: Beck, pp. 119–121, ISBN 3-406-54116-X
  • Merkel, Wolfgang (2010), Systemtransformation (2nd ed.), Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISBN 3-531-14559-2
  • Merkel, Wolfgang; Puhle, Hans-Jürgen; Croissant, Aurel, eds. (2003), Defekte Demokratien, 1, Opladen: Leske + Budrich, ISBN 3-8100-3234-4
  • Merkel, Wolfgang; Puhle, Hans-Jürgen; Croissant, Aurel, eds. (2006), Defekte Demokratien, 2, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISBN 3-8100-3235-2
  • O'Donnell, Guillermo (2004), "Delegative Democracy", Journal of Democracy, 5 (1): 55–69
  • Zakaria, Fareed (1997), "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy", Foreign Affairs, 76 (6): 22–43, doi:10.2307/20048274

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