This Is How Democracies Die

We tend to think of democracies dying at the hands of men with guns. During the Cold War, coups d'état accounted for nearly three out of every four democratic break­downs, and more re­cently, military coups toppled Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. In these cases democracy dissolved in spectacular fashion, through military power and coercion.But there is another way to break a democracy. It is less dra­matic but equally destructive.In Venezuela, for example, Hugo Chávez was a political outsider who railed against what he cast as a corrupt govern­ing elite, promising to build a more "authentic" democracy that used the country's vast oil wealth to improve the lives of the poor. Skillfully tapping into the anger of ordinary Venezuelans, many of whom felt ignored or mistreated by the established political parties, Chávez was elected president in 1998. When Chávez launched his promised revolution, he did so democratically. In 1999, he held free elections for a new constituent assembly, in which his allies won an overwhelming majority. It wasn't until 2003 that Chávez took his first clear steps toward authoritarianism, stalling a referendum that would have recalled him from office. In 2004, the government blacklisted those who had signed the recall petition and packed the supreme court. The chavista regime grew more repressive after 2006, closing a major television station, arresting or exiling opposition politicians, judges and media figures on dubious charges, and eliminating presidential term limits so that Chávez could remain in power indefinitely. After Chávez's death a year later, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, won another questionable re-election. It was only when a new single-party constituent assembly usurped the power of Congress in 2017, nearly two decades after Chávez first won the presidency, that Venezuela was widely recognized as an autocracy.  Continue reading...

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