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Published in: Public Choice 3-4/2024

13-12-2023

Competitive authoritarianism, informational authoritarianism, and the development of dictatorship: a case study of Belarus

Author: Anthony J. Evans

Published in: Public Choice | Issue 3-4/2024

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Abstract

This article explores the dynamics of modern authoritarian regimes, using Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko as a case study. By examining Belarus’s transition from a “competitive authoritarian” regime to a “hegemonic authoritarian” one from 1994 to 1996 and its further shift from a spin dictatorship to a fear dictatorship in 2020, the study offers insights into the multifaceted nature of dictatorships. The main findings are that using elections as a means to classify regimes does not fully explain their effect on authoritarian vulnerability and that different classifications of dictatorship, such as spin versus fear, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

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Footnotes
1
Huskey (2016, p. 74) underscores the similarities between Putin and Lukashenko but dismisses Belarus as an “imperial periphery”.
 
2
Wilson (2011) also reports that Lukashenko had an approval rating of 73% among those over 60 years of age but less than 30% for late teens, reflecting the demographic split in support.
 
3
The Political Rights score comprises 10 separate indicators, which receive between 0 and 4 points each. The total score is then transposed into a rating between 1 and 7, with 7 referring to the lowest level of freedom. For the raw data, see https://​freedomhouse.​org/​report/​freedom-world.
 
4
“Not free” is a composite designation that derives from an equally weighted combination of the Political Rights score and an additional Civil Liberties score. For a full explanation of the Freedom House methodology, see https://​freedomhouse.​org/​reports/​freedom-world/​freedom-world-research-methodology.
 
5
While we do not show evidence of intent on the part of Lukashenko, we do not need to claim that this strategy was a deliberate one. We also do not claim that Lukashenko was the first example of a democratically elected leader to build an authoritarian regime or of a dictator who utilised instruments of democracy.
 
6
This study treats dictatorship and autocracy as the same thing. Both are also considered authoritarian regimes.
 
7
For examples of this approach, see Hadenius and Teorell (2007), Cheibub et al. (2010), Svolik (2012), Huskey (2016), and Mahdavi (2023).
 
8
According to Levitsky and Way (2010), since all democracies have some form of incumbent advantage, “pure” democracies do not exist in the real world.
 
9
The sixth category of mixed regimes is a residual and therefore represented below the continuum in the diagram shown.
 
10
We will treat the distinction between “overt dictatorships” and “informational autocracies” (Guriev & Treisman, 2019) as the same as “fear” and “spin” dictatorships (Guriev & Treisman, 2022).
 
11
Holzer and Hlaváček (2009) grapple with the categorization of Lukashenko’s regime but they do not place their work within the context of hybrid regimes. Silitski (2005) calls the regime “pre-emptive” authoritarianism, while Hall (2023) prefers “adaptive authoritarianism”.
 
12
Levitsky and Way (2010) view Belarus as fully authoritarian since at least 2010.
 
13
Howard and Roessler (2006) exclude “founding elections” in their study, which means that they neglect Belarus’s period of competitive authoritarianism.
 
14
In the figures Ioffe (2008) cites, Lukashenko won 84% of the official vote and 65% of the actual vote.
 
15
There were multiple independent exit poll claims. These figures come from Charter 97. See https://​charter97.​org/​en/​news/​2020/​8/​9/​388815/​.
 
16
He does find that if a regime falls then the degree of contestation affects the likelihood of an electoral democracy to emerge (Brownlee, 2009).
 
17
To show the lack of clarity provided by these terms, Howard and Roessler (2006) draw a distinction between two types of hybrid regime: electoral authoritarianism and hegemonic autocracy. The use of the term “hegemonic” to denote the more extreme form of authoritarian regime is inconsistent with the other studies mentioned in this article. Similarly, Mahdavi (2023) implies that electoral authoritarianism and competitive authoritarianism are the same, but they are not.
 
18
According to Guriev and Treisman’s (2017) data set, Belarus had four state killings and 2,000 political prisoners as of 2015. The authors do not provide a source for this data but indicate they are using the “peak year”. This might be 2006, and if so Belarus does not exceed 1,000 political prisoners in other years before 2020. Thus, we have used the Viasna data reported previously.
 
19
Remarks made by Ewa Synowiec at EBRD-Emerging Europe: Outlook on Belarus, October 2016.
 
20
This probably reflects the conditions of his emergence. While Mikhail Gorbachev (the original spin dictator) sought to introduce democratic features to an authoritarian system, Lukashenko began with popular support.
 
21
Indeed, the 2020 election was the first time that it seems likely that Lukashenko would have lost a fair count of the votes.
 
22
Mudrov (2021) argues that the protests revealed a schism between different parts of Belarusian society and cautions against underestimating the popularity of regime stability. For an analysis of what prompted mobilisation during the nationwide protests, see Onuch and Sasse (2022) and Mateo (2022).
 
23
With that said, there is little doubt that members of the public are at greater risk of arbitrary imprisonment under this new, fear-based regime.
 
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Metadata
Title
Competitive authoritarianism, informational authoritarianism, and the development of dictatorship: a case study of Belarus
Author
Anthony J. Evans
Publication date
13-12-2023
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Public Choice / Issue 3-4/2024
Print ISSN: 0048-5829
Electronic ISSN: 1573-7101
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-023-01132-2

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