Putin meets Xi. Photo by www.kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Do Strongmen Govern Better?

In many developing and transition countries, people are looking for simple solutions and flirt with authoritarianism. This trend will have dire consequences because autocracies are hopelessly inferior to democracies in the long term.

Within just a few days, the leaders of the two most influential autocracies, China and Russia, have set the course for continuity in leadership.

This is not only bad news for dissidents and human rights activists. The political stalemate also affects ordinary citizens directly.

As the current Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) shows, autocracies perform significantly worse than democracies across all policy areas. Corruption is more widespread, people have fewer opportunities for advancement in society and entrepreneurs are confronted with less competitive conditions than in democracies.

Democracies outperform autocracies. Source: BTI 2018.

But instead of pointing to the comparatively positive record of open societies in solving their problems, more and more democratically elected politicians are flirting with the idea of no longer having to deal with a burdensome term limit, an independent judiciary, or critical journalists. President for life? “Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.”

U.S. President Trump still faces an independent judiciary, a free press and a powerful opposition.

Authoritarian populists in some developing and transformation countries such as Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey have come much closer to their goal of eliminating checks and balances. They deliberately incite dissatisfied citizens against their democracies’ immune system entrusted to them, and thereby only aggravate social, ethnic and religious tensions.

However, in the long run, cleavages and conflicts can only be overcome through dialog, political and social participation and institutionalized power transfer. Despite all the prophecies of doom, democracies with a strong immune system are best suited to do so.

Robert Schwarz is Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI). 

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