How authoritarians consolidate


The murder in Yangon of Ko Ni (left), one of Myanmar’s most prominent Muslim voices and a legal adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, is ominous for the country’s democratic transition, The Financial Times reports.

Targeting feared or unpopular minorities is a tried-and-tested authoritarian tactic for fomenting political polarization, a range of experts tell The New York Times. The us-versus-them dynamic is “easy for many people to rally around,” said Jonathan D. Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina:

Mr. Weiler cited the example of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who was elected on a promise to rid the country of drug dealers, as an example of an elected leader who used such tactics. Since taking office, Mr. Duterte has encouraged the police to kill thousands of civilians accused of being drug “pushers.”….

Eelco van der Maat, an expert in authoritarian consolidation at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said leaders tend to be strategic about the groups they identify as threats. They focus on those who are politically marginalized and relatively powerless, and who are already seen as alien and frightening. Targeting such groups, Mr. van der Maat said, is “easier” because the public is more likely to accept that those groups are threatening, and that there also is little political cost to persecuting those who are already weak.

Targeting feared or unpopular minorities is a way of “setting a boundary,” said Sheri E. Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College — a way to distinguish between “us” deserving of protection, and “them” who are a threat:

Leaders with authoritarian tendencies “will push and push until they find a spot where they can’t push anymore — and if they don’t, they’ll keep going,” said Berman [a contributor to The Journal of Democracy].. “We’re watching that process happen in not-so-slow motion in Turkey now,” she said, where Recep Tayipp Erdogan [right] has “eroded the democratic system to the point where most analysts think it’s no longer democratic at all.”


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