Are you looking for examples of authoritarian governments? What makes a leader or government authoritarian, anyway?
These authoritarian government examples range from Huge Chávez to Vladimir Putin. It’s important to note that not all authoritarian governments are the same, but they do follow similar tactics to seize power.
Keep reading for historic authoritarian government examples.
Authoritarian Governments Throughout History
These examples of authoritarian governments are well-known in history. Through authoritarian tactics, populism, and more, these authoritarians seized power and control over their governments, discarding democratic norms and principles in the process.
Hugo Chávez and the Death of Venezuelan Democracy
Unfortunately, the opposite dynamic played out in Venezuela in the 1990s with the rise of Hugo Chávez. Chávez was a political outsider and rabble-rouser, a former military officer who had been jailed for insurrection after leading a failed coup. But he became a hero to many Venezuelans for his fiery rhetorical attacks on what he portrayed as a corrupt and decadent political establishment.
The former president Rafael Caldera, seeking to regain his own hold on power, saw that Chávez could have a useful electoral appeal and sought to co-opt it. In 1993, Caldera was elected to the presidency as an anti-establishment independent candidate—all the while mimicking Chávez’s message and rhetorical style during the campaign. Caldera’s success as an independent also heralded the disintegration of the old party system, thus eliminating crucial gatekeepers from Venezuelan politics. Caldera quickly moved to release Chávez from prison, further boosting the latter’s standing as a legitimate political figure.
In 1998, Chávez himself was elected to the presidency and began the work of dissolving democracy and a free press in Venezuela. Caldera, thinking Chávez was merely a passing fad, had badly miscalculated by legitimizing and empowering him—the entire country would pay the price for his miscalculation.
Sweetheart Deals in Peru
In Peru, President Alberto Fujimori used the power of the purse to force television stations into giving him and his regime favorable coverage. He made it standard practice to award lucrative state broadcasting contracts only to friendly media outlets that promised to present his government in the most favorable light—creating a strong financial incentive for private media to collude with the regime, which many ultimately did.
Intimidation in Ecuador and Russia
Authoritarians can also take matters a step further, using their now-captured referees to investigate opponents on trumped-up charges and intimidate them into silence.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa used his control of the prosecutorial and judicial system to win a massive libel settlement against an opposition newspaper, forcing the enterprise into bankruptcy. This exerted a chilling effect on other media outlets in the country as they realized their only choices were to either coddle the regime or face financial ruin.
Alternatively, the government can abuse its tax and regulatory authority to break up businesses that they fear might provide campaign funding for political opponents. This has been a favorite tactic of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Alleging financial impropriety, Putin has ordered politically motivated investigations of large media and oil conglomerates who refuse to align with him. These investigations result in the break up of such businesses, after which they are sold off to friendly businessmen at below-market value—thus rewarding Putin’s allies and punishing his opponents.
Chilean Democratic Collapse: A Story of Polarization
The destruction of democracy in Chile during the early 1970s shows how dangerous extreme polarization can be. The pressures of Cold War politics drove the country’s parties into increasingly incompatible ideological camps during the 1950s and 1960s. Mutual toleration collapsed under these conditions, with rightists viewing the election of the leftist President Salvador Allende in 1970 as an intolerable existential threat to their values.
Allende, frustrated by the right’s stranglehold on congress and its success in blocking his agenda, threatened to cut through the gridlock by passing laws via national referendum—bypassing congress altogether and engaging in constitutional hardball of his own.
Political tensions were at the breaking point by 1973, when congress finally took the extraordinary step of declaring Allende’s government unconstitutional in August. Democracy entered a death spiral from which it would not recover.
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