Albert Hirschman Centre for Democracy
04 February 2022

Participatory authoritarianism?

The second episode of AHCD's podcast Constitutions for Democracy explores why non democratic regimes often do engage in elaborating constitutions.

The podcast Constitutions for Democracy is interested in constitutions as pillars of democracy. However, as a constitution could also play the opposite role, promoting and or consolidating authoritarianism, it is relevant to understand how hybrid and authoritarian regimes deal with old and new constitutions as well as the role they attribute to the will and the voice of the people in constitution-making processes.

In this second episode, the podcast made by the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and the Cost Action 17135, we explore why non democratic regimes quite often do engage in elaborating constitutions and why they sometimes do promote or simulate the promotion of citizens engagement in participatory processes.

There are several concrete examples of how Viktor Orban has undermined the independence of the judiciary and challenged political and human rights, such as elections, the right to asylum, and the right to assembly. At the same time, he is promoting legal changes including mechanisms of citizens participation. Why is he doing that?

Referendums also seem to be a common practice in hybrid and authoritarian regimes. A presidential system was introduced by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan through a controversial referendum in 2017, closing a debate about liberal constitution-making of previous decades. Why would Orban and Erdogan, who seem to govern without restrictions, be interested in changing the rules?

Chile, Turkey, Hungary, Russia as well as Morocco and Cuba are part of the broader discussion of this podcast episode, which is meant to understand if participation is just a smokescreen or if it plays a strategic role. And even more, can participation lead to the opening of the system sooner or later?

Hosted by Yanina Welp, the episode goes in depth in the theoretical and empirical discussion engaged in so defined as participatory authoritarianism in conversation with Volkan Güll, Claudia Heiss and Daniel Oross. These experts explain how dictators also need information and want to control present and future options. It is rare for dictators to step down, but when they do accept it is because they have a feasible alternative. So, constitutions are expected to provide future solutions for the members of the regime as well as some form of legitimacy. Even more, they need to perform in front of potential domestic opponents (sometimes also within the regime) as well as in front of international pressure.


Volkan Gül is an Assistant Professor at Kütahya Dumlupınar University in Turkey. He finished his PhD in Political Science (Political Theory) at University College London (UCL). His main areas of research are deliberative democracy and democratic innovations. He is also interested in populism and post-truth politics.

Claudia Heiss is Professor at the Institute of Public Affairs in Universidad de Chile. She is Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research, M.A. from Columbia University. Adjunct researcher at the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES). Former president of the Chilean Political Science Association 2012-2014 and current member of its board. Published the book “Why do we need a new Constitution?” (in Spanish, 2019).

Daniel Oross is Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Political Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence. He is MC Member of the Cost Action “Constitution-making and deliberative democracy” (CA17135). His research interests are democratic innovations, political participation, youth policy, political socialization.