Authoritarian breakdown — how dictators fall | Dr. Natasha Ezrow | TEDxUniversityofEssex

Translator: Zsófia Herczeg
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Welcome, everyone. Two-thirds of the world
lives under dictatorship, yet we know very little about dictators. We make the assumption that all dictators
and dictatorships are the same, and yet we know that that’s not the case. So the purpose of this talk is to explain
how dictatorships are different and then try to explore what the significance is
of these differences. For example, why do some leaders
step down from power really peacefully, while other leaders cling to power
until the very bitter end. In order to do so, we’re going to take a look
at the different types of dictatorships, and you can see here –
if we’re getting it. We first define dictatorship
under Barbara Geddes’ definition of “Any regime that has no turnover
in power of the executive.” But there are a lot of
different types of dictatorships, and this is determined
by who leads them. So you can look at who is leading them: Is it a political party,
like China’s Communist Party? Is it a military junta, like some of the military juntas
that were in charge of Argentina during the 1970s and 80s? Is it one leader, which we refer to
as a personalist dictatorship, which I’m going to go into more,
the definition, in a little bit, and in this case, it’s just one leader
that controls everything. Is it a monarchy or a ruling family,
like in Saudi Arabia? And sometimes there’s different hybrids
of all these different groups. So you can look here above, we have different pictures of dictators
in the different types here. You can see, there is
Mathieu Kérékou of Benin, and he’s a personalist dictatorship, and underneath him is Trujillo
of the Dominican Republic. In the middle below,
you have Lee Kuan Yew, who for many years
led Singapore under the PAP, and he led a single party regime. Then on the top, you can see
Algeria’s military dictatorship and also Argentina’s
military dictatorship, and then at the bottom, you have a monarchy that is led
by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. So a lot of differences with dictatorships come from the structure
which I just mentioned, but another thing that’s really
interesting to explore is the threats, and most of the threats for dictators
actually come from within the regime. Here, we have a picture of Pinochet, and in the back he has
some of his military leaders; the people who would be
the most threatening to him. There’s an assumption that revolutions
just take place all over the place and dictators fall because there is
a massive explosion of people who decide they’re tired of dictatorship; they push for the dictator to leave, and then, that’s how he gets
ousted from power. But the biggest threat to a dictator is actually coming
from within the regime: the people who have
the most potential to stage a coup and to oust the leader from power. The other thing is
that the survival of this leader depends on the relationship
between him and his elites. So how do dictators rise to power? Well, they need a launching organization. This launching organization
could be a military – like in the case
of Argentina’s military junta – or it could be a single party. Now, to gain power
is a lot easier, of course, when democratic institutions are weak, and the launching organization –
if it is really, really weak – then you’re going to see a dictator
concentrating power more and more tightly into his own hands, and then, that’s where you see
a dictatorship will become personalist. So some examples
of personalist dictatorships, I mean, they are all over the world, a lot of them are highly concentrated
in Africa, of course, like Mobutu in Zaire, Idi Amin of Uganda, in the Caribbean, you had
François Duvalier of Haiti, Gaddafi of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Jean-Bédel Bokassa
of the Central African Republic, and Asia had Ferdinand Marcos
of the Philippines. So we’re going to explore some questions: What types of dictatorships
are the most durable? Which are the ones that last the longest? In which type of dictatorship is the process of leadership
transition the smoothest? And also, we’re going to even explore
what types of dictatorship are more prone to kleptocracy,
or stealing in large volumes. So if we look at personalist dictatorship, once the personalist dictator is in power, he is very, very consumed
with staying in power, and because there are no institutionalized
mechanisms for succession – to hand over power to someone else – he becomes more and more paranoid. So he does everything he can
to eliminate potential rivals. He could deliberately weaken the military, which is known
as coup-proofing the regime. The military could be weakened
by not having training, by not having access to weapons, or by creating a parallel
military organization to offset the power
of the traditional military. He can also weaken
his own political party, deliberately, by ousting those
that have the most expertise or those that have the potential
to possibly challenge him. The other thing that the personalist
dictator may want to weaken is the legislative branch
and the judicial branch. The courts are deliberately weakened
by selecting people who are going to listen
to what he has to say, or he can threaten them
with their life or with their job if they don’t make decisions
that he agrees with, and he can also weaken the legislature by literally deciding
who gets to run for office, who gets to be in a particular office, purging individuals that he finds
to be disruptive or challenging to him. Then, the other thing
that is weakened is bureaucracy. He may weaken the bureaucracy
by playing musical chairs with the individuals
that are part of the bureaucracy, by putting them in position
for just a couple of years and then putting them in another position, firing them, hiring them again, making them feel completely insecure
and creating a very chaotic environment. So he’ll weaken the bureaucracy so much
that it barely is even functioning. And the purpose of this is
that he doesn’t want any group of people to be able to have any kind of expertise
or ability to challenge him. So the dictator actually prefers, in the personalist case,
where you have just one person ruling, they actually prefer disorganized chaos to dealing with a host
of organized groups. So as a result, the regime
is completely deinstitutionalized and completely personalized under the power
of this one particular leader. That brings me to that third question
that I was talking about, that which types of regimes
are more kleptocratic, and the answer is personalist regimes of all the different
types of dictatorships are the most kleptocratic, meaning they steal a lot
from their own people. So because personalist regimes – the personalist dictators,
they see life in power as very fleeting. They even think they may even have
a violent exit, and they are right; they will have a very violent exit,
which I’ll get to later. So because they see
their time horizon is really short, they decide that while they are in power, they’re going to hoard as much as possible
while they have the chance to. And they’ll hoard in large volumes. But the other aspect
of personalist dictatorship that leads to more kleptocratic behavior is that there are absolutely
no checks on this person’s power to ensure or prevent
the dictator from stealing. So they can steal large amounts of money,
and no-one says anything about it, and then that makes things even worse because then a culture
of corruption develops where they just sort of allow
these large amounts of wealth to be stolen with nothing being said about it. The other thing has to do
with the mode of exit. The mode of exit
in the personalist dictatorship – because institutions are extremely weak, there’s no mechanisms of power sharing or succession or of transitioning
from one leader to the next – the mode of exit is extremely violent. I’ll get to a little bit later
why that’s the case, with some examples. The dictator constantly
lives in fear of this. Another type of dictatorship
are single party regimes and monarchies. I grouped them together
because they function very similarly. Unlike a personalist dictatorship – where it’s just one person
that holds all the power, that has deinstutionalized
the regime completely and all the decisions are being made by one person with no checks
on their power – single party regimes and monarchies
have lots of people making decisions. They have family members
in monarchies, that are fairly large, that work and consult
with each other in making decisions, and in single party regimes a huge amount of people
are working together to make decisions. And as a result,
policy output is very slow – it takes a while for policies
and decisions to be made – but these decisions are made
with a lot of discussion. Many leaders in monarchies
and single party dictatorships, and maybe to a lesser extent
military dictatorships, have also decided, because
there are so many people involved, to implement some form
of institutionalized succession. For example, the PRI in Mexico will only allow the president
to be in power for six years, so they decided that no one person can have so much concentration
of power into their hands. China’s leadership has also
institutionalized succession, so every ten years, there’s going to be
a very smooth type of transition from one leader to the next. The same has happened
with the PAP in Singapore. They’ve institutionalized succession. The rules are very clear,
and you know who’s going to be in power in a very seamless process. So therefore the leader is not as paranoid
as the personalist dictator is of how they’re going to die
or how they’re going to leave power. So for example, the single party leader, they know that there’s rules
of how they’re going to get ousted, that it’s probably going to happen
either every six years or every ten years or at a certain point in time. And they know they’re going to be able
to leave with their life intact, and they can go on and continue
to be a politician in the party or decide to retire. So other members of the party are also able to check the power
of the leader much better, and that prevents them
from hoarding everything, from stealing everything. So you don’t see anywhere near
as much kleptocratic behavior with this type of dictatorships
as you do with personalist dictatorships. The other thing that’s important, and this isn’t always the case,
but in many cases, the process of the breaking down
takes a very long time. It’s very protracted,
and there’s a lot of negotiation involved. And often, it’s pacted, too. It’s rare and pacted, and by pacted, it means
that the elites and the opposition are working with one another, and they’re making compromises and trying to figure out
who’s going to get what, and it takes a very long time to decide
how that’s going to happen. In military regimes, they don’t really
want to be in power for that long. In fact, when you look
at military regimes across the world, their average duration
that they are in power is by far the least of any
different type of dictatorship. In fact, the average is only
about two and a half years. So they’ll seize power quickly,
in a coup, and then they decide, “I don’t really want to run the country
because it’s not what we are meant to do.” So they want to go back to the barracks, particularly if their corporate unity
has been threatened. And what I mean by that is
if they feel they are no longer unified because running things and being in power
create splits within their corporation, they’re going to feel like,
“We don’t really want this. We’re going to go back
to what our day job was.” They also don’t want to upset
the legitimacy in the hierarchy within the military. So, they may decide, “Well, running things
and ruling and being involved in politics does upset our hierarchies and does cause us to lose
legitimacy among the public, and so therefore we should just step down while we’re still considered
somewhat legitimate.” The other aspect
of why they may move back – I’ve mentioned this before –
is they do have a day job. The personalist dictator
doesn’t have a day job, they don’t see any life after politics, and because of that, it makes it
more difficult for them to leave. The other thing is that the dictator
can exit on more favorable terms. So, they may decide
they have a lot of bargaining power because right now, they are not considered
to be so terrible to the population, that if they exit now, they can still wage
a lot of power behind the scenes and have a huge military budget, which is really
what their main preference is. One thing to know is when the military
has been communally recruited, that means they are recruited
along ethnic lines or religious lines – like the Syrian military,
in the case of Syria, that has recruited mostly Alawites – they’re going to be less likely
to give up power, especially if this particular
ethnic group, religious group or sect is tied to the regime. They do not see that they do have an exit. They think that if they leave power, they could be punished
just like the leader would be punished. You’re going to see
these types of militaries more likely to cling to power
for a very long time. The other thing really important
to note about military regimes is that the process of democratization
is extremely bumpy, and it goes in a zigzag fashion. They’ll leave power very quickly,
and then they’ll come back, and leave power quickly and come back, and you see that they never
really want to leave. They’ve got used to ruling,
they are comfortable with it, they don’t want to do it forever, and they go back and forth,
which creates a lot of instability. I’ll give you some examples at the end. So when will a dictator step down? The key question is
what his life will be like after politics. Does he have a day job?
Is he going to die or go to jail? This makes it much less likely
that the dictator is going to step down, if he feels he’s going to face
a life in exile, jail or be killed. In rare cases, the dictator
is able to engineer his own retirement, and when they do this, they may create
themselves a very important position, as some sort of elder or statesman, maybe they can run things
with their party behind the scenes. We have seen this in the case
of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, who stepped down peacefully, and then he was sort of an elder statesman
for his political party in Tanzania. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana also did this,
and then he was given – though he was very brutal
at the time he ruled – he was given a lot of acclaim
for stepping down early and has been able to tour the continent
and be an important speaker. So why is the mode of transition
so violent for these personalist leaders? I’ve already touched upon it a little bit, but they’ve been surrounded by sycophants,
that means fawning fans or entourage, for decades in some cases. And these sycophants are just reporting
to them falsehoods and lies, and telling them what they want to hear. And so then this can shape the personality to make the dictator
even more narcissistic and delusional than they may already be. This is exemplified, definitely,
with the case of Gaddafi and Hussein, who both wanted their entourage
to give them false reports, false information about everything, telling them that they’re the best
and the greatest, that they need to be in power forever, that anyone that tried
to challenge them would die, that any of their enemies were weak. And the longer that these types
of dictators stay in power, the more they believe
that they are one with the state, they personify the state – they can’t see any life
outside of being one with the state. So because they can’t separate
themselves from the state, they have a very
difficult time stepping down. And in most cases, like you see
with Gaddafi and with Hussein, they cling to power until the very end, and they see just
no other life for themselves. There is a small subset of the population
of personalist dictators that have led for decades and decades
and get to this point, but if they’ve had the chance
to lead for long periods of time, then you see this type
of very, very delusional behavior. So what are the paths
authoritarian leaders can choose? They can decide they’re going to
preemptively step down and reform, die in office, or, which is obviously not their choice,
or be forced out. And there’s all different types of ways
they can be forced out. They can be deposed in a coup, they can be forced to resign by elites, they can be assassinated, they can be ousted in a conflict, there can be a very violent revolution
that takes place, there can be an international intervention and there can be nonviolent protests. So the chances of being forced out
are actually very high in dictatorships, and the next slide will illustrate this. So the fall of dictators, really only under 20%
actually reform on their own, and under 10% go
by some sort of nonviolent protest, 20% just die in office, but the rest are forced out
in a way that’s not on their terms and that could be very violent. You can see there are many
assassinations, forced resignations, coups and assassinations. The biggest percentage is of course coups; that’s the number one way
in which most dictators leave power. And then, it could be some sort
of violent protest or intervention that takes place. So the types of dictatorships
that are the smoothest, that are going to be less kleptocratic
are single party dictatorships. We see they’re able to manage
succession better, there are a lot more checks
on their power, so therefore the transitions are smooth. The issue is that the transition
can take a very, very long time. We have some examples of that, with China, with Singapore,
with Tanzania and Senegal. The different parties that are
responsible for managing these transitions are listed there. On the final slide, I’m going to talk about
authoritarian breakdown in North Africa. With the Libyan case, it was a personalist regime under Gaddafi, and it was violent, in the way he fell, he was very kleptocratic
when he was in power, and because there are
absolutely no institutions, the transition to democracy
has been very, very difficult. Mubarak led a military regime,
they left quickly, but we’re seeing
the zigzag behavior continue – that they’re leaving, come back,
they’re leaving, come back. And then Tunisia
had a single party leader, and that one has
the best chance of reform. So the end of the talk
illustrates one important thing, that in dictatorships institutions matter. Thank you. (Applause)

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