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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchAutocrats Have a Playbook—Now Democrats Need One Too

Autocrats Have a Playbook—Now Democrats Need One Too

Authors: Christopher Sabatini and Ryan C. Berg

Affiliation: Chatham House, American Enterprise Institute

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy

Date/Place:  February 10, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Argument

Word Count:  1931


Keywords:  Authoritarianism, Democratization, Economic Development 


The authors Sabatini and Berg state      that democratic governments have failed to generate a strategy to write their own “democrat’s playbook” and to respond to institutional manipulations from within. Asia and Latin America are named as examples of “competitive authoritarianism” with elected autocrats, who came up with “survival strategies based upon the prior success and failures of other governments”. The leaders of these countries further ask each other for assistance in rebuilding and restructuring certain authorities in their own governments, since autocrats are willing to keep one another in power. Threats, such as sanctions and public shaming, have not been proven      as effective tools when it comes to curbing the autocrat’s power. Sabatini and Berg identify “sowing public division or exacerbating existing tension” as one of the first alerting steps of autocrats to be able to gain power. Once they have gained power, they focus      on “electoral reengineering”, meaning that “changes are made to favour the incumbent”. These changes, together with the use of state resources for future elections as well as having a supportive media coverage of the ruling party, guarantee the autocrat to remain in power. The third step in the autocrat’s playbook consists of dominating the public space and suffocating civil society. The last step contains “packing the judiciary and politicizing the armed forces and national police”     , having political opponents jailed and creating “pro-government paramilitary groups” to remain in power. The authors conclude with recommending the Biden administration to consider “appointing a term-limited special representative against democratic backsliding in the White House”. This office would help to form a strategy together with other democracies, international organizations, and civil society, which will lead to international commitment to the “democrat’s playbook” to win the game. 

By: Dilek Yücel, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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