An authoritarian government is a form of government in which the power is centralized (single person or a group). Dictatorship have ruled in many countries and region of the world for years; Latin America, Africa, Caribbean and Asia (especially the Middle East). In all cases, it was not all evil, where genocide, assassination or corruption were common like with Saddam Hussein. Scholars agreed that some countries have seen a boost in socioeconomic development under authoritarian governments. It was the case for Dominican Republic under Trujillo, Argentina in the 60's, Chile in the 70's under Pinochet, Singapore or Turkey. For these leaders, their countries were not ready for democracy because “ dictatorial governments could better impose rational, long-term development plans” (Handelman, 2011, 35). The father of Singapore’s authoritarian political system, Lee Kuan Yew, declared that discipline is more essential for a developed country than democracy.
Lee also stated that “Democracy leads to indiscipline and disorderly conduct, which are inimical to development” (Handelman, 2011, 35). His strong statement was somewhat carried out by many LDC's around the globe, especially in Africa where ethnic issues are common. In a dictatorship, there are no riots against the government or its affiliates, a single party is more likely in power, the ruler has unlimited power, plans are executed efficiently and in a fashion manner, most efficient during emergencies, and less room for corruption. Dictatorship also promotes obedience to the ruler, strict discipline is a MUST. There are also some advantages for an authoritarian government.
The negative side of a dictatorship relates to absence of freedom of speech (the people has no say in how the system works, follow the leader blindly), no fair elections, oppression of people or member of the opposition, power to a small group, no civil rights (violation of human rights), poor governance, lack social welfare, social inequalities and the gap between rich and poor is very significant. Also, when it comes to ruthless dictatorship like Syria, atrocities and spread of war prevail. In short, dictatorship does not agree with international peace and even advocates of authoritarian governments admitted that most dictatorships have caused great damage to many countries education, economy and infrastructure systems (Handelman, 2011, 35). Dictatorship can be a burden for a country's socioeconomic development.
Democracy is the promotion of fairness, social equality, transparency, freedom and speech. Today, it is perceived the best form of government. A full definition from our book (Handelman, 2011, 31) pointed out that democracy is obvious when:
most of the country’s leading government officials are elected; there is universal or near universal suffrage; elections are largely free of fraud and outside manipulation; opposition-party candidates have a realistic chance of being elected to important national offices; and civil liberties—including minority rights—are respected, with guarantees of free speech, free assembly, free press (media), and freedom of religion.
Others define it in regard to fair election and governance. A democratic government will make sure that its people grasp the importance of its policies, promote fundamental rights and support a stronger middle class (Handelman, 2011, 30). Unlike dictatorship, a democracy does not use fear or force to govern its people. It is a free society where the civil society is empowered not weakened and where the rule of law prevail, not the rule of a person or a group (Geddes, 2004, 5). History has shown that most industrialize countries are democratic, perhaps because “industrialization leads to increases in wealth, education, communication and equality” (Handelman, 2011, 30). However, like dictatorship, democracy has some shortcomings.
Scholars underlined that democracy can be as bad as dictatorship; unstable, promotes party interest and it can also be a waste of time and resources (enacting laws like the ban on gun currently for example). Revolt is less likely to happen in a free society because the people elected their representatives via fair elections. Some critics emphasized that democracy will not be efficient in the LDC's if these states do not have a literacy rate of at least 50% as well as a socioeconomic modernization, which would narrow the gap between rich and the middle class (Handelman 2011, 34). Other critics insisted on the fact that democracy encourage corruption, and industrialization/globalization are western strategies to better exploit Third World countries (Handelman, 2011, 30).
The paragraphs above showed several advantages of having a democratic society than an authoritarian one. They also have similarities and in some circumstances, they have to work together. Democracy is ideal because it promotes an equal society where everyone has a fair shot at success. Dictatorship does not. Thus, it might be fair to say that it is better for a society to experience another type of government (like a single-party) to consolidate a democratic development.
Geddes, Barbara. 2004. “Authoritarian Breakdown”. Manuscript. Department of Political Science, UCLA.
Handelman, Howard. 2011. The Challenge of Third World Development. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.