How Autocrats Use Democracy to Their Own Advantage
During the Republican presidential debate on Dec. 15, the good half of the candidates spoke about the futility of democracy promotion. While these debates typically stand out for their scarcity of fact-based arguments, this specific line of discussion, from the political party that puts democracy promotion at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, points to the confusion that marks the implementation and the results of efforts to promote democracy.
Here is an example from a post-Soviet state that has been a long-term recipient of democracy promotion, and a one-time aspirant to greater democratization:
On Dec. 6, 2015, Armenia undertook a constitutional reform. It effectively moved from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system. The research tells us that a parliamentary system is more conducive to democratization than a semi-presidential one, since it is supposed to provide people with more direct power.
Yet these seemingly democratic reforms have done more to preserve autocratic power than to encourage meaningful democratization. The latter would require moving beyond formal changes and addressing the challenges inherent to the current regime: perpetually rigged elections, abuse of administrative resources by the ruling party, corruption, and limits on press freedom, to name a few. Yet there seems to be little if any political willingness for democratic progress among the ruling elites.