Defective democracy

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Defective democracy is a concept that 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 distinctions between totalitarian, authoritarian, and democratic political systems.[1][2] It is based on the concept of embedded democracy. While there are four forms of defective democracy, how each nation reaches the point of defectiveness varies.[3] One recurring theme is the geographical location of the nation, which includes the effects of the influence of surrounding nations in the region. Other causes for defective democracies include their path of modernization, level of modernization, economic trends, social capital, civil society, political institutions, and education.

Aspects of healthy democracies[edit]

To understand what makes a democracy defective, one must establish what a healthy democratic form of government is. A democracy is a system of government in which private citizens exercise their power directly by electing officials to one or more governing bodies, such as Norway's Storting.[citation needed] Healthy democracies can be classified as defective when any of the key components of government are missing, or fail to properly link to one another. All democracies provide universal suffrage, free and fair elections occurring on a recurring basis, a multi-party system, multiple sources of information in the country, universal rights, and voters' decision-making unhindered by country elites or external actors.[4]

Types of defective democracies[edit]

Exclusive democracy[edit]

Exclusive democracies are defective democracies because not all adult citizens have suffrage, resulting in unfair elections with no true sovereignty of the people. As a result, The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, introduced in the wake of the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement, made it possible for all American citizens, regardless of sex or race, to vote in the 1920s and 1960s. The passing of the amendment ensured the US would not remain an exclusive democracy. However, many critics have cited the United States as a corporatocracy, due to the extensive lobbying by many conglomerates. [5]

Domain democracy[edit]

When militaries, entrepreneurs, landlords, local militias, or multi-national corporations take up political domains and veto power from the hands of democratically elected officials, the result is a domain democracy.[citation needed] An example of a military coup resulting in a domain democracy is the 2017 Zimbabwean coup d'état, in which the Zimbabwean military seized control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, key areas of Harare city, and placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe under house arrest. In this instance, the coup was successful and after the resignation of Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa peacefully became the 3rd President of Zimbabwe.[citation needed]

Illiberal democracy[edit]

When elected officials are no longer held to constitutional principles due to the deterioration of power held by the judiciary, the nation becomes an illiberal democracy[citation needed] in which the rule of law is damaged or flawed, and the constitutional norms have little or no binding impact on elected officials and their actions.[citation needed] Individual civil rights are either partially nullified or not established. Illiberal democracy is the most common form of defective democracy.[5]

In 2017, Venezuela held a controversial election for state governors. Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro and his United Socialist Party swept the election, winning 17 of 23 states and 54% of the popular vote, despite Maduro's approval rating fluctuating between 17% and 22%. Ruling party members used state resources to help their campaigns, giving them an advantage over their rivals. The use of state funds for campaigns is illegal under normal circumstances but the Venezuelan court system had deteriorated to the point at which it only acted to serve the ruling party instead of serving true justice. This and other factors makes Venezuela a defective democracy.[6]

Delegative democracy[edit]

In delegative democracies, the Executive branch reigns supreme and the legislature and judiciary have very limited power over the Executive. Constitutional norms are rarely followed and the checks and balances of power required in healthy democracies are undermined.[7]

Delegative democracies commonly happen when there is one ruling party in a nation. Mexico prior to 1997 is an example. Mexico's ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled unchecked by any viable competition since the Mexican Revolution. During the PRI's political dominance in Mexico, the nation was a delegative democracy with the executive branch ruling supreme[8] and the Congress effectively rubber-stamping decisions.

Anocratic regimes[edit]

Anocractic regimes are dictatorships with a democratic institution of the 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 governments can exist when the ruling elite avoid severe rights abuses and do not steal or cancel elections. The ruling party ensures the rights abuses are not well-publicized, which would agitate the people they are ruling over.[9]

Cuba for example, is an anocratic regime with both autocratic and democratic attributes. In Cuba, the Communist Party has complete control over the nation but there are still democratic attributes, namely the National Assembly of Popular Power, whose 600 members are elected for five-year terms by popular vote. None of the elections for Assembly positions, however, are contested.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Романюк, О. І. (2017-11-24). "WHAT IS «DEFECTIVE DEMOCRACIES» AND WHAT THEY ARE". The Bulletin of Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University. Series: Philosophy, Philosophies of Law, Political Science, Sociology. 2 (33). Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University: 114–122. doi:10.21564/2075-7190.33.109732. ISSN 2663-5704.
  2. ^ Croissant, Aurel; Merkel, Wolfgang (2019-02-13). "Defective Democracy". The Handbook of Political, Social, and Economic Transformation. Oxford University Press. pp. 437–446. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198829911.003.0041. ISBN 978-0-19-882991-1.
  3. ^ Merkel, Wolfgang (2004-01-01). "Embedded and defective democracies". Democratization. 11 (5). Informa UK Limited: 33–58. doi:10.1080/13510340412331304598. hdl:10419/251950. ISSN 1351-0347. S2CID 149654333.
  4. ^ Bogaards, Matthijs (2009). "How to classify hybrid regimes?": 399–423. doi:10.1080/13510340902777800. S2CID 145315763. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b Merkel, Wolfgang (2004). "Democratization Vol.11". Democratization. Taylor & Francis Ltd.: 49. ISSN 1351-0347.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Merkel, Wolfgang (2004). "Democratization Vol.11". Democratization. Taylor & Francis Ltd.: 50. ISSN 1351-0347.
  8. ^ Weiss, Stanley (1997-09-17). "Finally, the Days of One-Party Rule Are Finished in Mexico". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  9. ^ Schipani, Matthew J., "Regime Completeness and Conflict: A Closer Look at Anocratic Political Systems." Thesis, Georgia State University, 2010.
  10. ^ "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, vol. 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 978-3-531-14559-4
  • Merkel, Wolfgang; Puhle, Hans-Jürgen; Croissant, Aurel, eds. (2003), Defekte Demokratien, vol. 1, Opladen: Leske + Budrich, ISBN 3-8100-3234-4
  • Merkel, Wolfgang; Puhle, Hans-Jürgen; Croissant, Aurel, eds. (2006), Defekte Demokratien, vol. 2, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISBN 3-8100-3235-2
  • O'Donnell, Guillermo (2004), "Delegative Democracy", Journal of Democracy, 5 (1): 55–69, doi:10.1353/jod.1994.0010, S2CID 8558740
  • Zakaria, Fareed (1997), "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy", Foreign Affairs, 76 (6): 22–43, doi:10.2307/20048274, JSTOR 20048274

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