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The term "anocracy" characterizes a regime type featuring inherent qualities of political instability and ineffectiveness, as well as an "incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices." These regime types are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of armed conflict and unexpected or adverse changes in leadership.[1] Despite its popular usage, anocracy lacks a precise definition.[2] Anocratic regimes are also loosely defined as part democracy and part dictatorship,[3][4] or as a "regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features".[4] Another definition classifies anocracy as "a regime that permits some means of participation through opposition group behavior but that has incomplete development of mechanisms to redress grievances".[2][5] Scholars have also distinguished anocracies from autocracies and democracies in their capability to maintain authority, political dynamics, and policy agendas.[6] Similarly, these regime types have democratic institutions that allow for nominal amounts of competition.[3]

The operational definition of anocracy is extensively used by scholars Monty G. Marshall and Benjamin R. Cole at the Center for Systemic Peace and gains most of its dissemination through the polity data series. The data set aims to measure democracy in different states, and retains anocracy as one of its classification methods for regime type. The data series scores regimes on executive recruitment, on constraints on executive authority, and on political competition. The 21-point sliding scale ranges from -10 to +10, where -10 corresponds to hereditary monarchy and +10 to consolidated democracy. Anocracies are regimes that receive a score between -5 and +5, as well as the special values of -66, -77, and -88, which correspond to cases of foreign interruption, interregnum, and transition regimes. The data set further sorts anocractic regimes into "closed anocracies" (-5 to 0) and "open anocracies" (1 to 5). [7] Consequently, anocracy frequently appears in democratization literature that utilizes the polity-data set.[8] In a closed anocracy, competitors are drawn from the élite. In an open anocracy, others compete too.[1]

The number of anocratic regimes has steadily increased over time, with the most notable jump occurring after the end of the Cold War.[1] During the period from 1989 to 2013, the number of anocracies increased from 30 to 53.[9]

Traits of anocracy

Human rights

Due to the instability of anocratic regimes, human rights violations are significantly higher within anocracies than democratic regimes.[10][11][12] According to Maplecroft's 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas, eight of the top ten worst human rights violating countries are anocracies.[13][14] In addition, the report categorized every current anocracy as "at risk" or at "extreme risk" of human rights offenses.[13]

The high correlation between anocratic regimes and human rights abuses denotes the nonlinear progression in a country’s transition from an autocracy to a democracy.[15][16][17][18] Generally, human rights violations substantially decrease when a certain threshold of full democracy is reached.[11][19] However, human rights abuses tend to remain the same, or even increase, as countries move from an autocratic to an anocratic regime.[12][20][21]

During the revolutions of the Arab Spring, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, all made relative progress towards more democratic regimes.[22] With many of the authoritarian practices of their governments remaining, the states currently fall under the category of anocracies.[9] They are also listed as some of the most extreme human rights violating countries in the world.[13][14] These violations include, but are not limited to, torture, police brutality, slavery, discrimination, unfair trials, and restricted freedom of expression.[14][23] Research has shown that political protests, such as those that occurred during the Arab Spring, generally lead to an increase in human right violations as the existing government tries to retain power and influence over governmental opposition.[12][15][24][25][26] Therefore, transitioning governments tend to have high levels of human rights abuses.[27][28]

In their annual Freedom in the World report, Freedom House scored state’s violations of civil liberties on a seven-point scale, with a score of seven representing the highest percentage of violations.[29] Freedom House defined civil liberty violations as the infringement of freedom of expression, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and individual rights.[30] While most consolidated democracies received scores of one, almost all anocracies were scored between four and six, due to the high percentage of civil liberties violations within most anocratic regimes.[29]


Statistics show that anocracies are ten times more likely to experience intrastate conflict than democracies, and twice as likely as autocracies.[31] One explanation for the increase in violence and conflict within anocracies is a theory known as More Murder in the Middle (MMM).[15][32] The theory argues that the unstable characteristics of anocratic regimes, which include the presence of divided elites, inequality, and violent challengers who threaten the legitimacy of the current social order, cause governing elite to resort to political repression or state terror at a much higher rate than democratic or authoritarian regimes.[15][15][28][33] This leads to high levels of what are termed "life-integrity violations"[15][27][28] which include state-sponsored genocide, extrajudicial executions, and torture.[15][15][20][21][27][28][34]

State life-integrity violations can be categorized as acts of state-terror.[27][28][35] Acts of terrorism by both governmental and outside groups are generally higher in transitioning, anocratic, governments than in either democratic or authoritarian regimes.[36][37]Harvard Public Policy Professor Alberto Abadie argues that the tight control of authoritarian regime is likely to discourage terrorist activities within the state. However, without the stability of a clear authoritarian rule or a consolidated democracy, anocracies are more open and susceptible to terrorist attacks.[37][38] He notes that in Iraq, and previously in Spain and Russia, transitions from an authoritarian regime to a democracy were accompanied by temporary increases in terrorism.[39]

According to the Political terror scale (PTS), a data set which ranks state sponsored violence on a five-point scale, almost every anocracy is ranked as having a score between three and five.[40] On the scale, a score of three indicates a state where "there is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted."[40] States are ranked as a four when, "civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level terror affects those who interest themselves in politics or ideas."[40] Scores of five are given to states where, "terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals."[40] While only eleven states were given scores of five in the 2012 Political Terror Scale report, four of those states, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, were classified by the Polity data series as anocracies.[9][40]

Civil war

There are differing views on whether or not anocracy leads to civil war. It is debated whether or not transitions between government regimes or political violence leads to civil war.

Civil war in unstable countries are usually the outcome of a country's inability to meet the population's demands.[1] The inability for the state to provide the needs of the population leads to factionalism within the country.[1] When the factions are not able to get what they want, then they take up arms against the state.[1]

Former democracies that transition to anocracy have a greater risk of being embroiled in civil conflict.[2] The population's awareness of what rights they had as a democratic society may compel them to fight to regain their rights and liberties. On the other hand, autocracies that transition into anocracies are less likely to break out in civil war.[2] All anocracies are not unstable. There are many countries that are stable but are classified as anocracies, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.[2][9] It is the transitional qualities associated with some anocracies that are predicative of civil conflict.[2] The magnitude of the transition also affects the probability of a civil conflict. The higher magnitude of the transition, the higher likelihood of civil war.[2]

However, some international relations experts use the polity data series in the formulation of their hypothesis and study and this presents a problem because the Polity IV system uses violence and civil war as a factor in their computation of a country's polity score.[3] Two components, "the degree of institutionalization, or regulation, of political competition",[3] and "the extent of government restriction on political competition",[3] are problematic to use in any study involving Polity IV and civil war in anocratic governments. In the numeric rating system of one of these parts of Polity IV, unregulated, "may or may be characterized by violent conflict among partisan groups."[3] The other component says "there are relatively stable and enduring political groups - but competition among them is intense, hostile, and frequently violent."[3] The only thing that can be deduced concretely, is that political violence tends to lead to civil war.[3] There is no solid evidence to support that political institutions in an anocracy leads to civil war.[3]

Broadness and complexity

While the first three characteristics capture the instability of anocracies, another feature of anocratic regimes is its broad descriptiveness. Anocracy describes a regime type with a mix of institutional characteristics that either constrains or promotes the democratic process, "encapsulating a complex category encompassing many institutional arrangements".[2][4] While anocracies demonstrate some capacity for civil society and political participation, their autocratic and democratic counterparts show considerably more or less capabilities.[2][4] Thus, while scholars are easily able to identify democratic and autocratic regimes based on their respective characteristics, anocracies become a wider, "catchall" category for all other regimes.[2] Yet, despite its broadness and complexity, the convention is still used because of its relevance to civil instability as well as its usage in the Polity data series.[2][41]

Examples of anocracy

Anocracy in Asia


Cambodia is an example of anocracy because its government displays democratic and authoritarian aspects. Under the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, Cambodia implemented an electoral system based on proportional representation, held legitimate elections, and instituted a parliamentary system of government.[42] The constitution, created on 21 September 1993 indicated that Cambodia was a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy.[42] Cambodia exhibited signs of a democratic state, especially with the presence of elections and a proportionally representative government. Following the coup in 1997, the Cambodian government has taken more authoritarian measures to keep peace in the country.[43] Protests have been suppressed violently by pro-government forces and many human rights activists and protester have been arrested by the Cambodian government.[43][44][45]

Cambodia shows signs of being an unstable government with abrupt changes in leadership, making it an anocracy. The initial elections led to FUNCINPEC's victory under the leadership of Prince Ranariddh. FUNCINPEC and the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party won 68 out of 120 seats in the National Assembly.[42] The Cambodian People's Party, led by Hun Sen, refused to accept the outcome. Although a coalitional government was created with Prince Ranariddh as the First Prime Minister and Sen as the Second Prime Minister, the deal failed as Sen led a coup d'état on July 5, 1997.[46] Sen and the CPP have been in power ever since and the CPP recently won a general election against the Cambodia National Rescue Party led by Sam Rainsy.[47]


Thailand's history of leadership changes make it an anocratic state. Thailand has been undergoing constant political upheaval since 1993.[42] Coups d'état and the purchase of political votes are the main causes for Thai political instability. Thailand experienced a period of political liberalization under General Prem Tinsulanonda who was an unelected Prime Minister during the 1980-1988 period.[42][48] A series of coups ensued soon after. General Suchinda Kraprayoon led a coup against Prime Minister Choonhavan on February 23, 1991.[49] After the Black May incident Suchinda was forced to resign and Anand Panyarachun was assigned the position of temporary prime minister.[49] Thaksin Shinawatra won the 2001 elections and became Prime Minister of Thailand; he won again in 2005 but a coup led by the Thai military deposed Prime Minister Shinawatra in 2006.[50] After a new constitution was adopted, Samak Sundaravej and his People's Power Party (Thailand) won the election on December 23, 2007 and Sundaravej became prime minister.[51] However, due to a conflict of interest, Sundaravej was ousted and Somchai Wongsawat was elected as the new prime minister.[52][53] Shortly after his election, Prime Minister Wongsawat and the PPP was found to be guilty of electoral fraud and Wongsawat lost his position.[54] Abhisit Vejjajiva's election as the next prime minister was met with opposition by "Red Shirts."[55] On July 3, 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra, belonging to the Pheu Thai Party, was elected as prime minister.[56] Following mass protests in 2013, Shinawatra was deposed by a military coup led by General Chan-o-cha, who is currently the prime minister.[57][58]


Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is classified as an anocracy because of adverse armed conflict, changes in leadership, and the part-democratic, part-authoritarian nature of its government. Burma had a representative democracy after it gained independence from Britain. Soon after independence was achieved, there was an outbreak of various insurgencies and rebellions.[59] Many of these insurgencies were caused by divides along ethnic lines.[59] One of the most prominent civil wars in Burma, the Kachin conflict, restarted in 2011 and Burma is still embroiled in a civil war.[60][61]

Burma has had a history of changes in government, usually through military coups. In 1962, General Ne Win enacted a military coup and created the Burma Socialist Programme Party which held power for 26 years.[62] On September 18, 1988, General Saw Maung led another military coup to return the government to the people and created the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), renamed State Peace and Development Council.[63] After holding free and legitimate elections in May 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won with Aung San Suu Kyi at its head.[63] However, the military junta refused to give up power to the NLD.[63] The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), backed by the military, won the 2010 elections and the military government was dissolved soon after.[62][64][65]

The Burmese government shows signs of having democratic as well as authoritarian features. Burma is a pseudo-democratic state because of the elections that have been held in 1990 and 2010.[63][64] However, both these elections were problematic because the military did not transfer power to the winning party in 1990 and the 2010 elections were seen as illegitimate.[63][64][66] Violent repression is the biggest signifier of the authoritarian nature of the Burmese government. The Win regime was marked by extreme oppression and human rights abuses and as a result, Burmese civilians and students protested against the government.[67][68] The Burmese government responded violently to the protests and the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar Armed Forces, killed many of the protestors.[68] After the coup in 1988 by General Maung, the protests were violently suppressed again as Maung's government proceeded to implement martial law to bring peace and order.[63]

Anocracy in Africa

At the end of World War II, European control over its colonial territories in Africa diminished.[1] During this period of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, many African states gained independence.[1] Although these newly independent African states could become either democratic or autocratic regimes, manageability issues made way for autocratic regimes to come into power.[1] Most underdeveloped African states that did become democracies in this time period failed within 10 years and transitioned to autocracies.[1] For about 30 years after 1960, the number of autocratic regimes in Africa rose from 17 to 41 as the number of democratic regimes stayed around five.[1][69] After the collapse of communism in Europe and the rise of democratization at the end of the Cold War, Africa experienced a major political transformation.[69] In the 1990s, the number of autocracies decreased to nine and the number of democracies increased to nine as many African countries remained stuck in an anocratic state.[1][69] By 2012, Africa had three autocracies, 17 democracies, and 30 anocracies.[69] By 2013, the majority of African countries remained either open or closed anocracies.[1] As African states transition from autocracy to anocracy and anocracy to democracy, electoral conflicts and violence remains prevalent.[70]


With a polity score of four in 2014, Nigeria is categorized as an open anocracy, transitioning closer to democracy than autocracy.[9] In recent years, Nigeria has displayed characteristics of anocratic regimes including political corruption and electoral riggings.[71] Following years of military rule after gaining independence in 1960, the 2007 general elections marked the first time in Nigerian history that political leadership could be passed from one civilian to another through the process of election.[71] However, in late 2006, just months before the April 2007 general election, former president Olusegun Obasanjo used state institutions to try to defeat political opponents as he attempted to win his third straight presidential term.[71][72] Using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), an institution created by Obasanjo's administration, the former president had some of his political enemies and their family members either arrested or detained.[72] Despite the electoral conflicts, some Nigerians view their country as running on democratic principles because military power has been controlled by political elites for 15 years.[72] However, the aforementioned electoral conflicts combined with state governors using legislative and judiciary power to repeatedly win elections suggests that Nigeria remains an anocracy.[72] Former president Goodluck Jonathan was accused of abusing his power in an attempt to remain in office past 2015, despite claiming his presidency advocated democratic principles.[72]


When Robert Mugabe gained presidency in 1980, Zimbabwe was listed as an open anocracy with a polity score of four.[9][73] By 1987, the country had almost fully transitioned to an authoritarian regime with a polity score of negative six, which made it a closed anocracy.[9] After remaining on the border between an authoritarian regime and closed anocracy for over a decade, Zimbabwe's polity score increased in the early 2000s. Currently, Zimbabwe has a polity score of 4, making it an open anocracy.[9] In recent years, Zimbabwe has moved toward becoming a more democratic regime, but electoral conflicts and human rights violations still exist leaving Zimbabwe as an anocratic regime.[73][74]

When Zimbabwe was a closed anocracy in the late 1990s, the country experienced major human rights violations.[74] Labor strikes were common as employers did not listen to the demands of their employers and real wages fell by 60 percent from 1992 to 1997.[74] The labor strikes that occurred in the late 1990s were declared illegal by the government of Zimbabwe and blame was put on poor, working class citizens.[74] As labor laws continued hurting workers, health services declined and housing projects stagnated.[74]

Since becoming president in 1980, Mugabe has used a variety of tactics to remain in power that have led to major electoral conflicts over the years.[73] In the March 2008 presidential election, the electoral body reported that Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate of the opposing party, received more votes than Mugabe.[73] However, because Tsvangirai received 48 percent of the vote and not full majority, it was announced that a runoff would take place. Using intimidation tactics, including murder threats, Mugabe and his party forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the runoff and Mugabe remained in power.[73] A U.S. led United Nations security council to impose sanctions on Mugabe failed and talks about power-sharing between Mugabe and Tsvangirai ended soon after the runoff.[73] After opposing party candidate Lovemore Moyo won Speaker of the Legislature, a power-sharing coalition was finally set up in September 2008 in which Tsvangirai was named Prime Minister.[73] Following this, the polity score of Zimbabwe increased from one to four by 2010.[9] Yet, in 2013, Mugabe won his seventh straight presidential term and the election was criticized for being rigged to allow Mugabe to win.[73]


In the 1990s, Uganda transitioned from an autocracy to a closed anocracy.[9] Although Uganda saw a jump in its polity score in the mid-2000s, it has retained a polity score of negative two for the last decade.[9] Uganda is populated by many ethnic groups with the Buganda group, the largest of these groups, making up 17 percent of the population.[75] Since Uganda gained independence in 1962, incessant conflict has ensued between the approximately 17 ethnic groups, which has led to political instability.[75] Dictator Idi Amin was responsible for around 300, 000 deaths under his rule from 1971-1979 and guerrilla warfare from 1980-1985 under Milton Obote killed 100, 000 people.[75] Human rights abuses under both of these rulers led to even more deaths from 1971 to 1985.[75]

In the early 1990s, Uganda experienced large-scale violent dissent as the country experienced more rebellions and guerrilla warfare.[76] As a result of the warring, the government called for non-party presidential and legislative elections in the mid-1990s.[75] A period of relative peace followed as a common law legal system was instituted in 1995. During this period, Uganda transitioned from an authoritarian regime to a closed anocracy.[9][75] The political situation of Uganda has seen little improvement under the rule of Yoweri Museveni who has maintained power since 1986.[75] Museveni has retained power due to the fact that other political organizations in Uganda cannot sponsor candidates.[75] Only Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) can operate without any limitations leading to electoral conflicts and violence.[75]


Somalia was labeled as an autocracy from 1969 to 2012 with a polity score of negative seven throughout the entire period.[9] From 1969 to 1991 Siad Barre was the military dictator of the Somali Democratic Republic.[77] After Barre was overthrown in 1991, two decades of chaos ensued as civil war broke out and rival warlords fought to gain power. The consistent fighting of tribal leaders and warlords made the country unable to deal with natural disasters, droughts, and famines causing a combined 500, 000 deaths in the famines of 1992 and 2010-2012.[77]

After years of being split into fiefdoms, the main Somalian warlords established an agreement to appoint a new president in 2004. However, this plan failed when Islamist insurgents, including the radical youth militia al-Shabaab who had links to Al-Qaeda, gained control over much of southern Somalia from 2006 to 2008.[77][78] With the assistance of international peace keeping offensives and the Kenyan army, the Islamist insurgents were forced to withdraw in 2012.[77] In the same year, the first formal parliament in over 20 years was appointed in Somalia.[77] The newly formed parliament chose Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president in September 2012. With international assistance, the Somalian government has been able to rebuild itself and the country has been relatively more stable recently.[77] Since 2013, Somalia has retained a polity score of five and is listed as an open anocracy.[9]

Anocracy in Europe


Russia is classified as open anocracy, which means that it is between one and five on the Polity IV scale.[3] Open anocracy is classified as having democratic elections, but ones that are not very free, and the country does not grant some rights of the population.[3] The press is strictly monitored, as is incoming news from the outside world.[3] Russia has all of these characteristics.[79] The elections in Russia are controlled by Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, and the country's lack of a middle class is a factor in its reputation worldwide as an illiberal democracy.[80][81]


Late in 2013, the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, conducted talks with the European Union about establishing closer ties. Instead, Yanukovych backed out of the agreement and chose to go over to Russia for some multibillion-dollar loans.[82] Civil unrest broke out in the streets of Kiev, with the citizens showing their anger over the president spurning the EU. Yanukovych fled to Russia as the protests got out of hand. An interim government was put into place in early 2014, with new elections scheduled for May. In early March, Russian troops took control of Crimea, which is mostly composed of Russophone people.[83] This was a highly controversial decision throughout the world and was unpopular among the western nations, as they saw this as an act of Russian aggression.[82] The elections held to determine if Crimea was to be part of Ukraine were highly criticized as well.[84] Questionable elections are a characteristic of anocracy.[81] In February 2014, the death toll in Kiev rose to almost 100 due to the rioting and civil violence.[85] This, in combination with the government's loose hold on its subjects, and foreign interference makes Ukraine an example of a transitional state, one that is in an anocratic stage.[2]


Yugoslavia was a large country in Europe until the 1990s. It was mostly held together in the latter half of the 20th century by Josip Tito, a president strongman that ruled by force of personality.[86] Tensions rose between the different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia including the Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Slovenians, and Kosovars.[86] New states formed were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.[86] The Yugoslav wars in the 1990s were very destructive and cost many lives. The fragmentation of power in Yugoslavia, disputed elections, and the discontent of the differentiated ethnic political groups are the main factors of Yugoslavia and the successor states being considered anocracies.[81] The political stagnation, and the non-civilian control of the military during the civil wars are a large part as well.[87]

Successful transitions

Anocratic regimes are often implicitly mentioned in democratic transition literature.[88][89][90] There are numerous examples of regimes that have successfully transitioned to democracy through anocracy.


Mexico's transition from an anocratic to democratic regime occurred during the 1980s and 1990s on the electoral stage. This period was characterized by the rise of multiple parties, decline of power from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and decentralization of power from the national level into municipalities.[91] The democratization process produced competitive elections with less voting fraud, culminating with the 1994 presidential election.[92][93] There was also a documented increase in the role of media and journalism during this period, which led to the creation of various special interest groups, such as those representing the environment, indigenous rights, and women's rights.[92] However, violence continues to remain a characteristic of Mexico's local elections.[94][95][96]


In the aftermath of World War II, Japan surrendered Taiwan to the Republic of China. The constitution that the Republic of China used to govern Taiwan guaranteed civil rights and elections, but was ignored in favor of rule under martial law.[97] Taiwan's pro-democracy movement gained momentum during the early 1980s and coalesced into the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party in 1986. Over the next decade, Taiwan attempted to restore the civil rights promised in its constitution, culminating with the Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996.[98] Taiwan continues to move towards a consolidated democracy.[99]


In 1991, Ghana was listed as an autocratic regime with a polity score of negative seven. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ghana was an open anocracy. In 2005, Ghana successfully transitioned from an open anocracy to a democracy as it has retained a polity score of eight since 2006.[9] A major part of Ghana's success can be attributed to its management of the electoral process in order to decrease electoral conflict.[70] Since Ghana began having elections in 1992, strengthening government institutions such as a strong, independent electoral commission has decreased electoral conflict.[70] The existence of civil society organizations and a media aimed at ensuring democratic principles have also helped manage electoral conflicts in Ghana. For example, Ghana's 2008 elections ended peacefully as political institutions were able to respond to electoral challenges and advance democratic principles and processes.[70] However, some electoral conflicts remain on a small scale in Ghana such as ethnic vote blocking, vote buying, and hate speeches.[70] Yet, even with these minor conflicts, Ghana has been able to transform from an anocracy to a democracy by decreasing electoral conflicts among other things.[70]


Use of the word "anocracy" in English dates back to at least 1950, when R. F. C. Hull's reprinted translation of Martin Buber's 1946 work Pfade in Utopia [Paths in Utopia] distinguished "anocracy" (neoclassical compound: ἀκρατία akratia) from "anarchy" - "not absence of government but absence of domination".[100]


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