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The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Alo Raun (Tallinn University, Estonia)

Populist authoritarianism – a post-Soviet regime type?

Against the backdrop of the third democratisation wave, dozens of countries began their journey towards democracy. Yet, many of them stopped halfway. For a long time, they were viewed as transition countries, until it became evident that in many of them the authoritarian regime had consolidated in a way that corresponded to no regime type described so far.

The most widely recognised attempt so far to define the middle ground between classical authoritarianism and democracy was made by Levitsky and Way (2010), who conceptualised the regime type called competitive authoritarianism. That said, they did not describe all regimes in the so-called grey zone as competitive authoritarian. Out of the 15 post-Soviet countries, for example, they categorised only six as competitive authoritarian regimes. Other non-democratic cases were “fully authoritarian” – a categorization that does not consider the versatility of regimes such as Russia, Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan.

The paper thus explores the “fully authoritarian” Post-Soviet space and analyses one of these regimes – Kazakhstan – in detail. A new regime type (populist authoritarianism) is developed in order to overcome the detected issues, and it is proposed that such a regime may exist also in Russia and Belarus. Such a regime bases its legitimacy on three aspects: personalist authority structure, high organizational power of the regime and populist tactics. It is a regime type where authoritarian incumbents resort more on rewards than on fear in relations with their population, and enjoy a degree of genuine popularity in the society. Socioeconomic populism (including patronage) is however only one part of the populist tactics. The other two are manipulative identity politics and control over media. While personalist authority structure is based on superpresidentialism and clientelism, organisational power of the regime considers state coercive capacity, strength of the dominating party and state control of the economy. It all is situated in a society with relatively high level on modernisation and human development.