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An enyclopedia entry on semiauthoritarianism (hybrid regimes): definition, classification, existing scholarship.
Edited by
John T. Ishiyama
Marijke Breuning
21st Century
University of North Texas
Lund University
emiauthoritarianism denotes a form of government
that is neither fully democratic nor fully authoritar-
ian. It might be the result of an authoritarian
having adopted some of the features of a democ-
racy, or of a democracy having restricted political or civil
liberties. The term is by no means uncontested. As will be
seen below, many other terms exist to describe such
regimes that fall into the gray zone between democracy and
authoritarianism. However, this chapter is not concerned
with terminology but rather with the conceptual issues sur-
rounding the phenomenon of countries’ not fitting into the
existing tripartite typology of democratic, authoritarian,
and totalitarian regimes. In this chapter, the notion of a gray
zone will be employed to denote this phenomenon. It is
suitable for the purposes of this chapter because it does not
make any assertions as to the quality of the regimes dis-
cussed (i.e., closer to democracy, closer to authoritarianism,
stable, in transition). In addition, it provides a good base to
discuss the conceptual challenges inherent in classifying
regimes. After all, the size of the gray zone depends on the
reach of the concepts employed by the researcher. It is not
uncharted territory but territory simultaneously charted by
two concepts that should not overlap.
Since the 1990s, the number of countries in this gray
zone has undoubtedly increased. Although only about 5%
of the world’s countries were characterized as “partly free”
by Freedom House ( in 1974,
their number had grown to as much as one third by 2007.
Although much (but not nearly enough) empirical knowl-
edge exists about each of these cases, there is a dearth of
concepts and typologies that would enable us to group
them in ways that highlight their similarities and differ-
ences. In fact, semiautocracies, hybrid regimes, semi
democracies, and related concepts are but a large residual
category in which regimes are placed that are neither gen-
uinely democratic nor genuinely autocratic.
There are good reasons for scholars and students of
comparative politics to feel uneasy about the large num-
ber of countries that do not fit into the existing tripartite
regime typology. The fact that so many regimes eschew
easy categorization by means of these classes suggests
that serious problems exist with respect to the normative
and theoretical assumptions and the concepts that under-
lie this typology. Add to this the considerable method-
ological difficulties inherent in gathering, systematizing,
and making sense of information on so large and so het-
erogeneous a population of cases, and it is easy to see that
this challenge will keep scholars of comparative politics
busy for some time to come. This uneasiness extends to
the makers of foreign policy in the developed democra-
cies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development. As a consequence of this lack of informa-
tion, it is difficult for them to assess whether such regimes
do or do not pose a threat to national interests, and to
decide on the proper instruments to help these regimes
develop and become liberal democracies.
The next section explains the roots of the difficulties
just outlined, sheds light on efforts made to characterize
and bundle the multitude of cases in the gray zone between
democracy and authoritarianism, and introduces the most
important concepts brought forth since the 1980s. Then,
some empirical evidence is summarized to examine how
these concepts have emerged from or are applied to such
gray-zone regimes. First, a brief analysis of some relevant
indices is provided to illustrate the difficulty of drawing
the conceptual line between democracies and autocracies.
Second, four of the cases most frequently mentioned in the
literature on the topic are briefly introduced: Egypt,
Malaysia, Russia, and Venezuela.
Thereafter, the policy implications will be discussed. In
particular, from an external perspective, the difficulties
this lack of knowledge poses for international democracy
support are highlighted. Thereafter, possible avenues and
conceptual limits of future research are briefly sketched.
The last section summarizes the results and rounds off the
chapter with a brief conclusion.
Conceptualizing the Gray Zone
The Origins of the Discussion
Only in the past two decades has the issue of regimes
that are per definition neither pure democracies nor pure
autocracies become a prominent issue on the agenda of
comparative political science. This does not mean that
such regimes have not existed before. At the outset of the
20th century, there were quite a number of countries in
which reasonably free and fair elections among several
candidates or even parties were held, but which could not
be considered democratic. These regimes tended to follow,
as Larry Diamond (2002) puts it, the “optimal path to stable
polyarchy, with the rise of political competition preceding
the expansion of participation” (p. 23). In the so-called
Third Wave of democracy, which began in Portugal in
1974 and swept across most of southern Europe, Latin
America, Asia, Africa, and central Europe within two
decades, a large number of regimes did not become liberal
democracies, however. In a large number of young democ-
racies (most prominently in Africa and Latin America),
human rights violations and military interference in poli-
tics was so widespread that many observers hesitated to
label these regimes “democratic.” After the breakdown of
the Soviet Union, the number of regimes that introduced
free and fair elections but retained many authoritarian
traits continued to grow. Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way
(2002) have identified three paths that led to such regimes.
The first two originated in a closed authoritarian regime,
which either regressed or collapsed and subsequently
adopted democratic institutions, often as a result of internal
and external pressure. The third path was the regression of
a democratic regime. Subsequently, many of these regimes
proved unable to either progress to democracy or reestab-
lish a closed authoritarian regime. At the time, the over-
whelming number of democratization scholars held that
these regimes were merely transitory and would soon
become true democracies. This “transition paradigm”
(Carothers, 2002) started to change around the middle of
the 1990s and was seriously questioned by the beginning
of the 21st century. A growing number of publications sus-
pected that these “hybrid” regimes were not transitional
but displayed remarkable stability.
Conceding that there was no inevitable path to full
democracy for regimes that either embarked on democratic
transition or improved civil liberties raised the question of
how these regimes should be conceptualized. Are they
democracies or nondemocracies? As easy as this question
may sound, it entails two further questions. First, which con-
cept of democracy should form the basis for this research?
And even if we could agree on one concept of democracy,
where do we draw the border between democratic and non-
democratic regimes?
The Conceptual Difficulty of Separating
Democracies From Autocracies
Semiauthoritarian regimes are an unwieldy category
because they are defined by what they are not: They are
not a democracy, nor are they genuinely autocratic. And
since autocracies are also defined by what they are not,
that is, a democracy, what is left of the equation is that
semiauthoritarian regimes are neither democracies nor
nondemocracies. At the same time, however, they display
elements of both.
The root of this confusing problem lies in how democ-
racy is conceptualized. Scholars do not agree on what pro-
cedural characteristics a regime needs to display in order
to be called a democracy. The minimalist electoral democ
racy concept, for example, demands elections that are free,
fair, inclusive, and meaningful, which not only entails a
real chance for the opposition to come to power, but also
presupposes a range of civil liberties such as freedom of
organization, freedom of speech, and freedom of informa-
tion. On the other end of the spectrum are maximalist con-
cepts that, in addition to the characteristics just listed,
entail a wide range of civil rights, the absence of veto play-
ers not legitimized by democratic procedures, horizontal
accountability, and the rule of law.
Different as all these concepts may be, they have two
features in common that pose considerable difficulties in
the process of separating democracies from nondemocra-
cies: (1) They are made up of several criteria, and all of the
criteria are necessary elements of a democracy; and
(2) more problematically, most of these indicators relate to
phenomena that are not either/or conditions but matters of
degree. In consequence, the researcher must decide on arti-
ficial thresholds that separate existence from nonexistence
of the elements inherent in this concept. For example, how
many persons need to be prevented from voting in order for
the condition of universal suffrage to be violated? When
exactly do elections cease to be free and fair? As a result
of the two features above, further conceptual difficulties
emerge: Is the half-fulfillment of two conditions equal to
the nonfulfillment of one condition? And is a regime that
fails on five of eight conditions less democratic than a
regime that fails on only one?
The fact that most people would answer the latter ques-
tion in the affirmative illustrates the biggest problem with
existing regime typologies. Per definition, regime typolo-
gies must be able to cover all existing cases, and the
classes they establish must be mutually exclusive: Each
case must correspond to only one type. This means that if
the tripartite typology were a true typology, a gray zone
could not exist. That it does exist is attributable to the dif-
ficulty of establishing a single threshold for a concept that
consists of several criteria, each of which is gradual in
nature and therefore necessitates the imposition of an arti-
ficial threshold.
Attempts to Solve the Gray-Zone Problem
Three main strategies exist to deal with such gray-
zone regimes: Conceptualize them as deficient democra-
cies, as subtypes of authoritarian regimes, or as a genuine
regime type (hybrid regimes). It needs to be noted that
these approaches are not equal to regime types, and the
empirical overlaps between them are considerable. This,
of course, is again a result of the conceptual difficulties
just outlined.
Diminished Subtypes of Democracy
Arguably the most prolific reaction to the conceptual
challenges just outlined is the creation of ad hoc concepts
to characterize regimes that share most attributes associ-
ated with a liberal democracy but not all. In most cases, the
deficiency is expressed with an adjective, resulting in
terms such as tutelary democracy, illiberal democracy,
neopatrimonial democracy, and delegative democracy, to
just name a few of the literally hundreds of such concepts
that have emerged in recent decades. In their famous trea-
tise on conceptual innovations in comparative politics,
David Collier and Steven Levitsky (1997) call these con-
cepts “diminished subtypes” of democracy.
Whereas “classic” subtypes share all the attributes asso-
ciated with democracy and add other features to arrive at
increased differentiation (e.g., parliamentary vs. presiden-
tial democracies; consensus vs. majoritarian democracies),
diminished subtypes are characterized by the lack of one
or more of the defining attributes of a liberal democracy.
For example, a regime in which horizontal accountability
is absent is not a liberal democracy anymore, but might
still be more democratic than an electoral democracy.
According to one count, the number of such “democracies
with adjectives” (Collier & Levitsky, 1997) went into the
hundreds, creating confusion and making systematization
difficult. In a notable contribution, a research team associ-
ated with Wolfgang Merkel (Merkel, Puhle, Croissant,
Eicher, & Thiery, 2003) sought to clear up this confusion.
These researchers formulated a very demanding concept of
an embedded democracy that consists of five “partial
regimes,” that is, elections, public participation, effective
power to govern, horizontal accountability, and civil liber-
ties. Merkel et al. (2003) also developed 34 indicators to
account for “defects” in these partial regimes, with one
type of defective democracy corresponding to each partial
regime. In this way, they identified four basic diminished
subtypes of democracy, namely, exclusive democracy
(which covers any violation of democratic elections and
political participation and therefore combines two partial
regimes), tutelary democracy, delegative democracy, and
illiberal democracy. In other words, the strategy of extend-
ing the root concept of liberal democracy into the gray area
by subtracting attributes of the root concept persists.
Thereby, the root concept is extended toward or even
beyond the minimalist concept of an electoral democracy,
and a fluid conceptual boundary encompassing both the
minimalist and the maximalist concepts is imposed
between democracies and authoritarian regimes, and vari-
ous “defects” or “deficits” mark the difference between
electoral and liberal democracy.
Electoral Authoritarianism
“Electoral authoritarianism” is another way of concep-
tualizing “institutionalized ambiguity” (Schedler, 2002,
2006b). It follows the suggestion of Juan Linz (2000) not
to build subtypes of democracy but rather to rely on sub-
types of authoritarianism when charting the gray zone.
Andreas Schedler maintains that electoral authoritarianism
is different from regime hybridity (see below) because
regimes in the former category are “neither democratic nor
democratizing but plainly authoritarian, albeit in ways that
depart from the forms of authoritarian rule as we know it”
(Schedler, 2006b, p. 5). They are different from both elec-
toral democracies, which conduct free and fair elections, and
closed autocracies, which do not stage multiparty elections.
Again, however, it is difficult to draw the line between these
regime types, with the result that some of the examples that
Schedler gives for electoral authoritarian regimes are also
textbook examples in some of the literature on hybrid
regimes, notably Russia, Egypt, and Malaysia. The propo-
nents of the electoral authoritarianism concept share the
stance that these regimes are semiautocratic by their own
choice and not because they lack the capabilities to man-
age the full transition to democracy. On a conceptual level,
these authors shed light on the interplay between political
and civil rights, and a distinction is made between hege
monic and competitive electoral authoritarianism. The for-
mer pertains to regimes whose “elections and other
‘democratic’ institutions are largely façades, yet they may
provide some space for political opposition, independent
media, and social organizations that do not seriously criti-
cize or challenge the regime” (Diamond, 2002, p. 26). In
competitive authoritarian regimes, which Levitsky and
Way (2002) categorize as hybrid regimes (see below),
“formal democratic institutions are widely viewed as the
principal means of obtaining and exercising political
authority. Incumbents violate those rules so often and to
such an extent, however, that the regime fails to meet con-
ventional minimum standards for democracy
(p. 52). Hence, elections are free but hardly fair, with
incumbents seeking to control the outcomes by means
such as intimidating opposition candidates, corrupting
journalists, vote buying, and ballot-box stuffing.
Hybrid Regimes
Instead of extending the range of cases that the concepts
democracy and authoritarianism cover by including
(diminished) subtypes of either regime type, Terry Karl
(1995, 2005) proposed to treat hybrid regimes as a unique
regime type that combines free and fair elections—but not
the other traits of a minimalist concept of democracy—
with autocratic elements. In fact, the various conceptual-
izations of hybrid regimes discussed subsequently tend to
be based on the two procedural dimensions of democracy
identified by Robert Dahl (1971): contestation for political
office and public participation in politics. While hybrid
regimes tend to grant many or even most of the political
rights necessary for political contestation, they tend to con-
trol day-to-day politics by systematically excluding certain
social groups; by restricting the rights to participate in pol-
itics; or by disempowering parliaments, the judiciary, and
other control institutions. Often, a relaxation of political
rights leads to a tightening of civil liberties, and vice versa.
However, elections are not the only realm in which
contestation in competitive authoritarianism is played
out. As Levitsky and Way (2002) point out, three more
arenas are involved. First, in the legislative arena, the
opposition can use the legislature as a platform to orga-
nize and voice dissent even if it is unable to seize political
power. Second, in the judicial arena, judges are often for-
mally independent and can challenge incumbents by
declaring a referendum illegal, sanctioning electoral
fraud, or protecting the media. Naturally, the incumbents
will seek to co-opt or intimidate judges, but such action
can be costly in terms of regime legitimacy. Third, the
media in competitive authoritarian regimes often enjoy
limited or even complete freedom to report on controver-
sial issues and can serve as watchdogs exposing govern-
ment malfeasance or as mouthpieces of the opposition. As
is the case with the judicial arena, the incumbents tend to
apply more subtle means than do closed authoritarian
regimes for suppressing media freedom.
Marina Ottaway (2003) has added a further important
arena, namely, that of gaining public support. The most
obvious way of doing so is generating output legitimacy by
means of providing public services or stimulating eco-
nomic growth. Where this option is not available (most of
the hybrid regimes are developing countries), leaders can
rely on personal charisma, co-opt potential opposition by
means of patronage networks, or portray themselves as
guarantors of stability, security, and the national interest. A
number of later studies confirm that public opinion is
indeed an arena that should not be neglected in the analy-
sis of semiauthoritarian regimes.
In a broad manner and almost by intuition, hybrid
regimes are often conceptualized as nearer either the auto-
cratic end of the spectrum of political regimes (semiauthor-
itarian regimes) or the democratic end (semidemocracies).
Although such a denomination might be the result of a
more or less value-free analytical assessment of the number
of democratic preconditions fulfilled or not fulfilled, some
authors introduce a normative element to justify their
labels. They point out that democracy has today become the
only legitimate form of government and that international
pressure on nondemocracies to become liberal democracies
is rising.
Because of this, they argue, many authoritarian
regimes introduce democratic features (such as elections)
to mask their authoritarian character. Hence, Diamond
(2002) claims that “virtually all hybrid regimes in the world
today are quite deliberately pseudodemocratic” (p. 24). In a
similar vein, Ottaway (2003) holds that a defining feature of
semiauthoritarian regimes is that “they are carefully con-
structed and maintained alternative systems (p. 7). According
to Ottaway, such regimes need to be distinguished from
countries that are still in transition to democracy and those
that strove to become democratic but failed. Although the-
oretically relevant, it is difficult to ascertain whether a
regime is in a protracted transition, has failed to democratize,
or is semiauthoritarian by choice. With respect to semiau-
thoritarian regimes, Ottaway proposes a subdivision into
three types of semiauthoritarian regimes. “Semiauthoritarian
regimes in equilibrium,” for which she cites Egypt as
a textbook case, “have established a balance among
competing forces (p. 20) and are therefore able to persist
for a long time. Semiauthoritarianism in decay
(p. 20) denotes regimes that are regressing toward full
authoritarianism, such as Azerbaijan, or from democracy to
semiauthoritarianism, such as Venezuela, and that tend to
be much more unstable than semiauthoritarian regimes in
equilibrium. “Semiauthoritarian states undergoing dynamic
change (p. 20) form a third category and comprise regimes
verging on democratization. Ottaway’s examples are
Senegal and Croatia, although Senegal was showing, to
apply Ottaway’s terminology, signs of “decay” when this
chapter was written.
As can be seen from the above discussion, the term semi
authoritarian is frequently used as a residual category to
cover diminished subtypes of democracy and electoral
authoritarian regimes as well. Only at the end of the first
decade of the 21st century did the more systematic study of
hybrid regimes as a distinct regime type pick up. For exam-
ple, building on the competitive authoritarianism concept
formulated by Levitsky and Way (2002), Joakim Ekman
(2009) created a profile of hybrid regimes based on six cri-
teria, namely competitive elections (a minimum condition to
be fulfilled in order for a regime to be classified as hybrid),
significant levels of corruption, lack of democratic quality, a
problematic press freedom situation, a poor civil liberties
situation, and lack of the rule of law. According to Ekman,
the more of these criteria that are met, the closer the regime
verges on authoritarianism.
In a similar fashion, Heidrun Zinecker distinguishes
democracies, autocracies, and hybrid regimes by means of
five “partial regimes,” that is, civil rule, polyarchy, rule of
law, civilizedness, and political exclusion/inclusion. If
none of these conditions is fulfilled, the regime is author-
itarian, and if all are fulfilled, it is a democracy. Hybrid
regimes are characterized by the presence of at least civil
rule and polyarchy, and the nonfulfillment of at least one
of the three other conditions. Of particular importance for
Zinecker is the exclusion/inclusion dimension, for it func-
tions as a link between regime characteristics and issues
of socioeconomic transformation. According to Zinecker,
the democratization of a hybrid regime requires the trans-
formation not only of political but also of socioeconomic
Finally, Leonardo Morlino (2009) straightforwardly
argues that conceptualizing hybrid regimes as a genuine
regime type can be justified only if it can be proven that
regime hybridity is not a transitory phenomenon. For him,
only those countries that have been “partly free” in the
Freedom House survey for at least 10 years qualify as
hybrids. In a way similar to that of Zinecker (2009),
Morlino classifies these regimes on the basis of “seven
ambits that are important when analyzing any political
regime” (p. 290), that is, rule of law, electoral process,
functioning of government, political pluralism and partic-
ipation, freedom of expression and beliefs, freedom of
association and organization, and personal autonomy and
individual freedom, and arrives at three types of hybrid
regimes: quasi democracies, limited democracies, and
democracies without state.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Each of the approaches outlined above has advantages
and disadvantages. The advantages of creating diminished
subtypes are that the perceived deficiencies of individual
regimes are highlighted and that democracy can continue
to serve as the root concept if a regime is perceived to
verge closer to democracy than to authoritarianism.
However, there are several notable disadvantages in this
strategy. First, some scholars argue that it is unethical to
classify one third of the countries in this world by what
political scientists perceive to be not their special traits,
but their deficits. The more serious disadvantage, how-
ever, is the conceptual dilemma this strategy poses. In
terms of the strict demands of a typology, since these
“diminished subtypes” do not possess all the necessary
attributes prescribed for a regime to be called a liberal
democracy, they should not be called democratic if liberal
democracy is the root concept. In this case, it might be
better to take electoral democracy as the root concept and
create categorical subtypes.
The concept of electoral authoritarianism seems to
solve both these problems. It represents a categorical sub-
type of authoritarianism that is juxtaposed to a minimalist
concept of an electoral democracy. However, it does not
address the problem of how to classify those regimes that
are democracies but not liberal democracies. Clearly, the
strategy of creating diminished subtypes of democracy
cannot be applied anymore if the root concept is not a lib-
eral but an electoral democracy. Hence, nonliberal democ-
racies cannot be conceptualized anymore on the basis of
the deficits ascribed to them, and entirely new subtypes
building on positive or neutral characteristics would have
to be created. This is more difficult than it seems.
Treating “hybrid regimes” as a distinct regime type
does not solve, but rather dodges, this problem. The con-
cepts presented by Ekman (2009) and Zinecker (2009)
allow researchers to broadly measure a hybrid regime’s
relative distance from democracy and authoritarianism,
and they allow scholars to cluster hybrid regimes around
different dimensions that, however, again point to deficits.
The more explicit classification proposed by Morlino
exemplifies this dilemma. His typology again yields
“democracies with adjectives” (Collier & Levitsky, 1997).
Empirical Evidence
Quantitative Evidence
As the previous sections should have made clear, the
number of gray-zone regimes depends on the democracy
concept applied as well as its operationalization. This per-
tains to electoral authoritarianism as well because, as pointed
out above, authoritarianism is defined as the absence of
democracy. This section compares several assessments
regarding the number of “hybrid regimes.
Based on the Freedom House index, which is one of the
most popular indices for classifying political regimes,
Diamond (2002) counts 73 liberal democracies, 31 elec-
toral democracies, 17 ambiguous regimes, 21 competitive
authoritarian regimes, 25 hegemonic electoral authoritar-
ian regimes, and 25 closed authoritarian regimes for the
year 2001. If we count as hybrid regimes those that are nei-
ther liberal or electoral democracies nor closed authoritar-
ian regimes, the number comes to 62 (far more than one
third out of a sample of 167 countries). If hegemonic
authoritarian regimes are excluded, almost one fourth
(38 regimes) can be classified as hybrids. This tallies well
with the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index
for 2008, which lists 36 out of 167 regimes covered as
“hybrid” (p. 2), and Morlino’s findings, which identify
35 hybrid regimes. According to Diamond, the largest per-
centage of hybrid regimes is found in sub-Saharan Africa,
where 27 (17) out of 48 regimes are neither liberal nor
electoral democracies nor closed authoritarian regimes
(the number in parentheses, in this sentence and below, is
the number of hybrid regimes when hegemonic electoral
authoritarian regimes are subtracted). In the Middle East
and North Africa, 10 (4) out of 19 fall into this category,
12 (7) out of 27 in the post-Communist regimes, 7 (3) out
of 25 in Asia, and 6 (5) out of 33 in Latin America and the
Caribbean. According to Ekman’s index, 30 countries ful-
fill at least the minimum criterion of competitive elections
and can therefore be classified as hybrid regimes. Russia
and Venezuela are positive on all indicators and are there-
fore the hybrid regimes closest to authoritarianism,
whereas Romania and Croatia are positive on only one
indicator and are therefore closest to democracy. Although
the number of hybrid regimes in all the indices mentioned
so far does not differ much if hegemonic authoritarian
regimes are excluded from Diamond’s typology, there is
no consensus on which regimes qualify as hybrid and
which do not. A comparison of the indices just introduced
yields great variation.
Case Studies
Although, as pointed out above, gray-zone regimes are
very different from each other, the different combinations
of democratic and authoritarian traits are illustrated in this
section by means of four brief case studies. This analysis
follows the “competitive authoritarianism” concept and
examines the four arenas identified by Levitsky and Way
(2002), augmented by the public support dimension iden-
tified by Ottaway (2003). The emergence and traits of
competitive authoritarianism are outlined for Egypt,
Malaysia, Russia, and Venezuela because these four cases
figure prominently in the debate, they represent four of six
continents, and they display remarkable differences with
respect to their “hybridity.” As a preface to the case stud-
ies, the next two paragraphs briefly shed light on the his-
tory of regime hybridity in each case.
Egypt and Malaysia can both be characterized, in
Ottaway’s terms, as “institutionalized” semiauthoritarian
regimes. The institutional base of semiauthoritarianism in
Egypt was built under Anwar el-Sadat in the 1970s. He
replaced the military regime of his assassinated predeces-
sor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, with a presidential system that
nominally guaranteed political and civil rights. In
Malaysia, a race riot in 1969 ended the democracy inher-
ited from the British colonizers after the country’s inde-
pendence in 1957. After an 18-month state of emergency,
the ruling United Malays National Organization reorga-
nized itself, and gradually a regime combining authoritar-
ian and democratic elements was set up. One crucial
difference between the two countries is that in Malaysia,
leadership succession took place under the auspices of the
former leader, whereas leaders in Egypt remained in power
as long as they were alive.
In contrast to these long-standing regimes, Russia’s
and Venezuela’s semiauthoritarianism emerged only in the
late 1990s. Again, there are crucial differences between
these two cases. In the Russian Federation, semiauthori-
tarianism gradually replaced an authoritarian regime after
the collapse of the Soviet Union. Semiauthoritarianism
was most visibly engineered under Vladimir Putin, who
had succeeded the ailing Boris Yeltsin as president of the
Russian Federation in late 1999. Whereas Putin arguably
had an incumbent advantage in the 2000 presidential elec-
tions, the former Venezuelan army colonel Hugo Chavez
had not been in office when he won the 1998 presidential
elections in Venezuela. However, he was well-known for
his leading role in a 1992 coup attempt.
Of the four regimes described here, only Venezuela
had the status of an “electoral democracy in the
Freedom House survey, which it lost, however, in 2009
Tables&GraphsForWeb.pdf). Until then, opposition par-
ties and candidates were allowed to organize and com-
pete in presidential and parliamentary elections. They
had a real chance of winning, but the playing field was
not level. As a result of the media restrictions discussed
below, Chavez and his followers receive better and more
benevolent media coverage, and government resources
are used to shore up support in election campaigns. In
addition, Chavezs staffing of the National Electoral
Council and the use of fingerprint identification equip-
ment have shored up allegations of irregular election pro-
cedures because they allegedly allow authorities to
connect voters to their ballots. In the other three cases,
the opposition is similarly disadvantaged in media cover-
age, resource endowment, and election procedures and
faces additional difficulties. In Malaysia, the electoral
system favors the ruling Barisan Nasional. In addition,
electoral rolls are frequently manipulated, districts are
gerrymandered, and party organization and campaigning
are restricted. Nevertheless, opposition parties have been
able to win the gubernatorial elections in individual
provinces. In Egypt, strict party registration rules, high
thresholds for presidential candidates, and electoral
manipulation have made it virtually impossible for oppo-
sition candidates to contest the presidency. The same is
true of Russia, where state-controlled media, high thresh-
olds for candidates, and intransparent elections have
made elections increasingly less competitive.
The independence of the judiciary is severely limited in
all four countries. In Egypt, the Ministry of Justice con-
trols promotions and compensations for judges, giving the
executive undue influence over the judiciary. In addition,
exceptional courts appointed by the president try security
cases, and the Emergency Law allows the arrest of politi-
cal activists. Corruption and executive interference ham-
per judicial independence in Malaysia, Venezuela, and
Russia. However, the courts are not entirely dysfunctional
in any of the cases.
Freedom of information in Egypt is severely hampered
by government ownership of all terrestrial television sta-
tions, the licensing requirements for newspapers, and a
state monopoly on the printing and distribution of newspa-
pers. In addition, criticism of state authorities and organi-
zations is discouraged by means of defamation suits. The
for success are best if demands for support come from the
regime and are not imposed from the outside. In general,
the tools applied to promote democracy must be applied
in a context-sensitive manner, which requires intimate
knowledge of the case in question. Of general relevance
are issues such as whether semiauthoritarianism has per-
sisted for a long time and is likely to persist, the relation-
ship between incumbents and opposition, the (non)existence
of likely collaborators in civil society, the regime’s
(in)dependence on outside funding, the socioeconomic
situation, the degree of social cohesion, the quality of
existing regime structures, the level and features of cor-
ruption, experience with democratic procedures, and so
on. This list shows that there are no easy solutions, and it
is here that improved knowledge about different types of
hybrid regimes and their internal dynamics is clearly nec-
essary in order to design better policies to deal with the
challenges emerging from such regimes.
Directions for Future Research
As the preceding sections have shown, the study of gray-
zone regimes is still a young and evolving discipline.
Future research will have to address three broad issues:
conceptual, contextual, and causal. With respect to the first
issue, four major roads can be imagined to tackle the
dilemma of having to impose an artificial threshold on
phenomena that are matters of degree rather than type.
First, conceptualize regimes exclusively in degrees, which,
however, would in its final consequence mean that the
three-part typology in its present form would have to be
given up and that one or more gradual concepts extending
across all regime forms would have to be found. Second,
conceptualize regimes exclusively in types, which would
necessitate the creation of a multitude of indicators to cap-
ture not only the basic regime types but also their manifold
variations. This would be the highly impractical political
science equivalent of squaring the circle. Third, further
pursue the practice of establishing an artificial threshold
between democracies and autocracies while conceptualiz-
ing each regime type’s quality as a continuum. As seen
above, the drawback of this strategy is that it works only
with minimalist concepts. The more demanding the con-
cepts become, the larger the gray zone in which they over-
lap becomes. Thus, most promising is the practice of
applying a minimalist concept of an “electoral democracy”
and carefully separating it from “electoral autocracies.”
Fourth, further pursue the third strategy and deal with the
gray zone by conceptualizing it as a distinct regime type.
With respect to either strategy, another dilemma has to
be addressed when applying these concepts to concrete
cases. On one hand, both small-N and large-N comparative
studies have to be based on uniform criteria that allow the
researcher to make inferences that transcend these cases.
On the other hand, such analysis must take heed of the
problem that in different settings, different forms of violat-
ing democratic principles might be applied. For example,
whether an election is free and fair has to be decided from
case to case because the methods used to influence elec-
tions differ and cannot be specified a priori. Hence, the
study of hybrid regimes needs to be conceptually and
methodologically sound and contextually informed.
A final desideratum for further research concerns ques-
tions of causes and effects. This applies especially if the
gray zone is classified as a distinct regime type. For exam-
ple, in what ways do hybrid regimes come about, and how
does this history influence their stability? What role do
domestic factors such as political culture, the socioeco-
nomic background, and the character of the regime play?
Are certain types of hybrid regimes more stable than others?
Does a specific regional environment promote the formation
of hybrid regimes? And are hybrid regimes harmful to
regional stability? In sum, what needs to be developed in the
years to come are theories that address these questions.
Semiauthoritarianism represents a true challenge for
comparative politics because theories that explain the gen-
esis and impacts of semiauthoritarian or hybrid regimes on
regional and domestic stability do not yet exist. The vast
amount of work on the subject is still conceptual in nature.
This is one of the reasons that international support for
democracy faces such great difficulties in picking the right
instruments. Comparative politics has begun only very
recently to systematically conduct research on such
regimes, which truly makes semiauthoritarianism a topic
for political science in the 21st century. The conceptual
foundation of the existing tripartite regime typology is the
root of the difficulties inherent in such theory building, and
three different strategies to overcome these difficulties have
been introduced in this chapter. In addition, a number of
indices have been examined to gauge the number of such
regimes existing in the world. Finally, Egypt, Malaysia,
Russia, and Venezuela were compared to tease out the sim-
ilarities in the ways they limit elections, stifle parliamen-
tary and judicial activity, and constrain press freedom, but
nevertheless gain a modicum of support. However, these
regimes also illustrate important differences with regard to
their historical origin, their duration, and the instruments
their leaders utilize to stay in power. Future research can
pursue a number of promising paths, and this chapter has
aimed to enable the reader to gain a better understanding of
the challenges involved in theorizing semiauthoritarian
regimes. It is hoped that the theoretical and practical rele-
vance of conducting such research has become obvious.
1. I am indebted to David Kühn and Julia Leininger for their
useful comments and suggestions.
2. The term regime denotes “the set of government institu
tions and of norms that are either formalized or are informally
recognized as existing in a given territory and with respect to a
given population” (Morlino, 2009, p. 276).
3. At the time of writing, a new line of scholarship has
become devoted to exploring whether powerful authoritarian
regimes such as China and Russia actively contribute to estab
lishing authoritarianism as a legitimate alternative to democracy.
4. The analysis is based on the Freedom House Country
reports for the year 2008. Additional information on Malaysia
was obtained from Case (2002).
5. A partial exception is Zinecker (2009), who suggests that
hybrid regimes where rent economies predominate can be
democratized by the marketization of the economy.
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On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the handover, Hong Kong’s transition towards a full democracy remains unsettled. Drawing upon the contemporary theories of hybrid regimes, this article argues that manipulations adopted by electoral authoritarian governments have become increasingly common in Hong Kong today. As Hong Kong’s elections, opposition activities, and media have been increasingly put under electoral authoritarian-style manipulations, the city-state is now situated in the “political grey zone” in-between liberal authoritarianism and electoral authoritarianism and its transition into a full democracy remains nowhere in sight. The case study of Hong Kong will help enrich the existing comparative literature on hybrid regimes by developing a new “in-between category” and offering an interesting case of democratization of sub-national polity.
Full-text available
In the literature on democratization the mainstream of theoretical and empirical conso- lidology uses the dichotomy autocracy versus democracy. Democracy is generally con- ceived of as 'electoral democracy'. This simple dichotomy does not allow a distinction between consolidated liberal democracies and their diminished sub-types. However, over half of all the new electoral democracies represent specific variants of diminished sub-types of democracy, which can be called defective democracies. Starting from the root concept of embedded democracies, which consists of five interdependent partial regimes (electoral regime, political rights, civil rights, horizontal accountability, effective power to govern), the article distinguishes between four diminished sub- types of defective democracy: exclusive democracy, illiberal democracy, delegative democracy and tutelary democracy. It can be shown that defective democracies are by no means necessarily transitional regimes. They tend to form stable links to their economic and societal environment and are often seen by considerable parts of the elites and the population as an adequate institutional solution to the specific problems of governing 'effectively'. As long as this equilibrium between problems, context and power lasts, defective democracies will survive for protracted periods of time.
During the 1990s, international democracy promotion efforts led to the establishment of numerous regimes that cannot be easily classified as either authoritarian or democratic. They display characteristics of each, in short they are semi-authoritarian regimes. These regimes pose a considerable challenge to U.S. policymakers because the superficial stability of many semi-authoritarian regimes usually masks severe problems that need to be solved lest they lead to a future crisis. Additionally, these regimes call into question some of the ideas about democratic transitions that underpin the democracy promotion strategies of the United States and other Western countries. Despite their growing importance, semi-authoritarian regimes have not received systematic attention. Marina Ottaway examines five countries (Egypt, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Croatia, and Senegal) which highlight the distinctive features of semi-authoritarianism and the special challenge each poses to policymakers. She explains why the dominant approach to democracy promotion isn't effective in these countries and concludes by suggesting alternative policies. Marina Ottaway is senior associate and codirector of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment. © 2003 Carnegie Endowmentfor International Peace. All rights reserved.