Democracy, though seemingly omnipresent in today’s world, is not a system that is easy to transition to for a nation with a totalitarian past. The members of the existing political elite in non-democratic states, in many cases, hold on to power and either decline the notion of the transit of power or only partially satisfy the calls for democracy. Such partial transitions from non-democratic regimes to democracy result in hybrid regimes.
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The term “hybrid regimes” has been surrounded by controversy because of its vagueness. At the same time, many researchers use other terms such as “competitive autocracy,” etc. However, in recent years the term “hybrid regime” has become the standard for referring to the phenomenon. Hybrid regimes, as the name suggests, are systems of a state’s political organization which possess the traits of both democratic and non-democratic systems.
They primarily form in countries that are transitioning from a totalitarian regime. For example, Russia and a number of other states that had gained their independence after the collapse of the USSR have developed hybrid regimes. Yet they are not “incomplete democratization but […] new and resilient forms of authoritarianism” (Brownlee 517). However, today it is generally expected of a country to embrace some sort of democratic principles, and so no hybrid regime brands itself as one, claiming to be democratic instead.
Having the word “Democratic” in the name does not make a democratic state. Modern hybrid regimes have to turn to more and more real democracy in order to legitimize themselves to their population. Hybrid regimes hold elections, yet, as Mazepsus et al. point out, “these elections are characterized by controlled competition and manipulation” (353). Morgenbesser summarizes three functions of elections in hybrid regimes: legitimation, patronage, and elite management. Legitimation has been discussed earlier; patronage is support of key groups within society which are rewarded for their votes, and elite management is patronage with elites as the recipients of political favors (22). Hybrid regimes form and develop “democratic” institutions, yet those serve almost no democratic function due to corruption and manipulation. As Knott writes, “the state in hybrid regimes is entrenched in corruption”, which is a consequence of democratic institutions being performative and not functional (363). Every hybrid regime is unique and mimics various institutions differently and to various extents.
Hybrid regimes are present worldwide and therefore vary vastly in their policies, degree of democratization, and other aspects. They also are not stagnant and evolve over time. For example, Hale summarizes the way Putin’s regime changed over time:
What we have seen in Russia under Putin, it will be argued below, can be understood as a transformation from a “competing-pyramid” system where multiple regional and corporate patronage pyramids actively competed for support to a “single-pyramid” system where the president has effectively combined the most important lower-level patronal networks into one large nationwide political machine (35).
He characterizes Putin’s Russia as an “electoral patronal system” because Russia holds regular elections, allows real opposition parties to exist (to some extent), and client-patron relations are an important aspect of the regime (34). Another aspect of Russia’s regime is that “[it] legitimizes itself by stressing its cultural coherence with the Russian national identity” (Mazepsus et al. 355), which became a more prominent theme over time. Russia, however, is not definitive of the whole spectrum of hybrid regimes.
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Venezuela is another example of a modern hybrid regime, yet it significantly differs from Russia. As Mazepsus et al. write, the Venezuelan approach to legitimating is much more populistic:
The incremental introduction of a series of social policies known as ‘missions’ became the flagship of the Bolivarian revolution’s populist approach to a variety of problems linked to social inequality. […] Moreover, the missions led to an increase in public spending, which gave Chávez a competitive advantage over opposition parties during elections (358).
Other regimes like Seychelles can be more personalistic in their legitimation:
Since the SNP has never been in power and therefore did not have a chance to attain these kind of successes, the ruling party constantly brands itself as a supporter of the interests of the ‘true Seychellois’, whereas the opposition are branded as outsiders (Mazepsus et al. 362).
All three of these states had different political ideologies prior to developing a hybrid regime. They are vaey different from each other historically, culturally, and politically, yet they all follow under the definition of a hybrid regime. In short, it is an extremely diverse political category that cannot be simplified to a singular example like Russia or Venezuela.
Hybrid regimes represent a large portion of modern states and should not be confused with democracies, complete or partial. They are modern systems of non-democratic political rule and play a substantial role in the world. While it is almost impossible for a major democratic country to fall to dictatorship in the present day, hybrid regimes are easy to convert to and to maintain. Therefore, it is important for any citizen to recognize signs of transitioning to a non-democratic regime and act early on.
Brownlee, Jason. “Portents Of Pluralism: How Hybrid Regimes Affect Democratic Transitions”. American Journal Of Political Science, vol. 53, no. 3, 2009, pp. 515-532. Wiley, doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2009.00384.x. Accessed 2 Dec 2020.
Knott, Eleanor. “Perpetually ‘Partly Free’: Lessons From Post-Soviet Hybrid Regimes On Backsliding In Central And Eastern Europe”. East European Politics, vol. 3, 2018, pp. 355-376. Taylor & Francis Group, doi:10.1080/21599165.2018.1493993. Accessed 2 Dec 2020.
Hale, Henry E. “Eurasian Polities As Hybrid Regimes: The Case Of Putin’s Russia”. Journal Of Eurasian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 33-41. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1016/j.euras.2009.11.001. Accessed 2 Dec 2020.
Mazepsus, Honorata et al. “A Comparative Study Of Legitimation Strategies In Hybrid Regimes”. Policy Studies, vol. 37, no. 4, 2016, pp. 350-369. Taylor & Francis Group, doi:10.1080/01442872.2016.1157855. Accessed 2 Dec 2020.
Morgenbesser, Lee. “Elections In Hybrid Regimes: Conceptual Stretching Revived”. Political Studies, vol. 62, no. 1, 2013, pp. 21-36. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12020. Accessed 2 Dec 2020.