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What is Authoritarian Politics?

Bernard  Edirisinghe

There is a popular belief about the characteristics of a democratic political system. Among them are pluralism, dissent, gender equality, civil society space, media freedom, the rule of law, devolution of power, and the integrity of rulers. The Verities of Democracy 2020 annual report states that these traits are now being eroded from the standard political systems that are considered anti-democratic. 

According to the report, for the first time since 2001, in 92 states, 52 percent of the world’s population now lives under authoritarian regimes. Another 35 percent, or 2.6 billion, of the world’s population live in states that are slowly moving towards authoritarianism. Hungary, a member of the European Union (EU), is considered one of the world’s leading democracies. According to the report, the ‘third wave of authoritarianism‘ is that the United States, Brazil in Latin America, Turkey, which is considered to be the gateway to Europe in the Middle East, and India from Asia are beginning to show signs of an authoritarian political system.

So how do we identify the features of an authoritarian political system?

Juan Linz, a political scientist, pointed out some of the key features of an authoritarian regime. Accordingly authoritarianism;

1- Limits pluralism.

Pluralism as a political philosophy recognizes the diversity that exists in a particular political society and ensures that pluralism exists. Different ethnic groups can live together peacefully while preserving their cultural and religious identities, ties and way of life. It recognizes that separate human values can only be maintained in a just and productive manner in a democratic political system.

But as an authoritarian regime develops, one nation, one religion, one culture, one way of life, etc., and then the rest of the people in those communities are subjected to various forms of persecution with the consent of the state. This process can be done by passing various laws and regulations, banning or restricting political parties or by inciting the people by the rulers.

An example of this is considered by political scholars to be the ‘Citizens (Amendment) Act’ passed by the Government of India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019. The bill is considered to be a bill passed against the rights of the Muslim people in the country.

2- How the ruler justifies his political authority

The authoritarian rulers are trying to justify their existence by highlighting the problems that have arisen in their country in an extraordinary way. The most commonly used topic is the spread of ‘terrorist’ fear. The repression of Muslims by so-called ‘Islamophobia’ has been used by governments around the world as a tool to assert their power in each country. India under Modi and the United States under Donald Trump are two recent examples of this.

Covid-19, a global catastrophe that will change the future course of mankind, has reportedly been used by governments in many countries to expand their power indefinitely. By December 2020, Argentina had published fake news about Covid 19, a new offense punishable by up to six years in prison with hard labor under the Penal Code, and the transfer of Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 National Operations Center to military leadership, as an IDEA report, published by the international organization, points out. 

3- Suppression of political participation and anti-authoritarian political activities:

In a democratic political system, getting the views of the people in making policy decisions was accepted as the most advanced feature of democracy.

But an important trend that has come to the attention of political scholars in recent years is that signals issued by political leaders at public meetings can strengthen or dissolve the existing political structure.

Modi’s speeches in India, which show authoritarian tendencies, were directed against Muslims, and Donald Trump’s emphasis on white supremacy in the United States exemplified the influence of individual countries on democratic structures.

Related to this are the efforts of authoritarian rulers to suppress political opponents. In such cases, the immediate victims of authoritarian rule are journalists who report dissent.

4- Defining Executive Powers:

In a democratic constitution, executive power is subject to a system of movement and balance. In principle, it is recognized that the legislature and the participation of the people must continue to be valued and promoted.

But the opposite is happening in states that exhibit a monopolistic tendency. The executive expands its powers and breaks down provisions to restrict and balance its power. Legislators are weakened and the independence of the judiciary is taken over.

Political scholars refer to democratic states as authoritarian states when these features are more or less developed within a state.

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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