Opinion: The Rise of Strongmen Across the World

The worldwide trend of far-right election winners has been accompanied not just by a rise of strongmen but also a strengthening of the power of strongmen that are already in power.

This recent tendency of dictators consolidating their power was marked by the Chinese Communist Congress giving Chinese Premier Xi Jinping the option to be “president for life” and more recently Egyptian lawmakers extending their president’s term in office until 2030. Their president, Abdel-Fatah el-Sisi, is a former general who took power during the Arab Spring (likened to Libyan potential strongman General Khalifa Haftar).

Another thing we’re seeing are a lot of potential strongmen, like the previously mentioned Libyan General Haftar. For example, newly-elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has expressed his desire to return to Brazil’s military junta dictatorship days (his relative indifference to farmers burning the Amazon rainforest, which accounts for 20% of our oxygen, also attests to his hunger for power and his reluctance to say no to the political forces that brought him to power). Viktor Orban, who rose to power after anti-Semitism and far-right ideals took the central-European country of Hungary by storm, is also another “potential dictator”. And although he isn’t a member of the quasi-Nazi, far-right and openly anti-semitic Jobbik political party, he has given them a seat in the European Parliament. He’s also gone along with Jobbik‘s agenda and even allowed them to assemble a paramilitary arm of their political party, called Magyar Garda. In addition, the president of the European Parliament Jean-Claude Juncker has even greeted Orban by openly calling him “dictator”.

However, the “strongman” that really takes the cake is the Philippines’s Rodrigo Duterte, who ran on a platform of ending the drug epidemic “by any means necessary”. According to Duterte, “by any means necessary” means extra-judicially killing suspected drug users. You read that right. Suspected drug users, not drug dealers. Duterte has also been known to be party to nepotism and accused of widespread corruption, which are both signs that authoritarianism is coming, as was seen with the USSR’s Joseph “Stalin” Chughashvilli, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

No dictatorship ends well. The illusion that it will is misleading and often dictatorships are more stable than their post-dictator country. The only way one can end well is through a leader peacefully transferring power to a democratic successor, as seen with Mikhail Gorbachev, whose actions, albeit somewhat accidental, triggered the collapse of the USSR, the “evil empire” as it was dubbed by perhaps its most outspoken critic, US President Ronald Reagan. Another, lesser-known example was when the Argentine military junta fell, toppled by economic instability, a failed coup, and one politician’s desire for freedom.

Of the myriad of ways a dictatorship can meet its demise without threat to its citizens, the best way is to never have one at all.

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