Mar 15, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democrats vs. Dictators: The Dictators

In our latest digest of Democrats vs. Dictators picks, Democracy and Society makes its case for the top Dictators in Foreign Policy’s second annual March Madness contest. These are not predictions, as the winners of each round are up to the daily preferences of the FP editors. Instead, they’re a pseudo-academic breakdown of the authoritarian qualities of each leader–a mash-up of sorts combining democracy index characteristics and salient recent events.

Miss yesterday’s write-up of the Democrats? You can see it here.


1st Round: Dictators

Game 5: The SCAF vs. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Our winner: The SCAF
While Ahmadinejad is technically the Iranian head of state, he is out of favor with the mullahs and Khomeini and holds little power on his own. Despite the recent uptick in human rights abuses, our friend Mahmoud is from from being a dictator himself–to his disappointment, I am sure. The SCAF military establishment, on the other hand, consolidated power immediately in the post-Mubarak vacuum and is now imposing ruthless control over Egyptians and foreigners alike. In this round, it’s definitely the SCAF.

Game 6: Mohammed VI vs. Thein Sein
Our winner: Mohammed VI
Myanmar has been known to have one of the world’s most brutal military regimes. But in the last year, the country has initiated a reform process and is now “in a halfway house between authoritarianism and democracy.” This is thanks in no small part to Thein Sein, an individual who certainly has not earned a place on this list based based on his record from the twelve months of his presidency. One might be tempted to say the same thing about Mohammed VI, having instituted breakthrough democratic reforms in historically closed Moroccan society. Yet Morocco is essentially a one-party state and ruled entirely by the flashy King and his close circle. Mohammed’s cosmopolitan habits don’t entirely mask the fact that he is only the latest in a line of the Alauoite dynasty in Morocco. This match goes to Mohammad VI.

Game 7: The Castro Brothers vs. Robert Mugabe
Our winner: Robert Mugabe
What a bland matchup. Twenty years ago this may have been something to set your VCRs to, but certainly not today. Fidel and Raul Castro, despite still having highly centralized power, have not done much to crack down on dissidents lately. But Mugabe is back in the spotlight again with two elections in Zimbabwe scheduled for this year, and observers say that the government doesn’t have enough money to actually run both. 88-year-old Mugabe, the only president Zimbabwe has ever had, certainly will have some tricks up his sleeve. He wins this round–and we should all stay tuned to what happens next.

Game 7: Kim Jong Un vs. Hugo Chavez
Our winner: Kim Jong Un
This is a wild match. Hugo Chavez has just come under fire for blatantly axing a state governor after his critical remarks about the president. But North Korea doesn’t even have governors. Regardless of what Kim Jong Un does or doesn’t do, whether it’s going a little crazy with the nationalist PR or actually being propped up by his aunt’s husband Jang Song-thaek, he’s still the one it’s all about. This one’s for you, Lil’ Kim.

Game 13: Vladimir Putin vs.  Viktor Yanukovych
Our winner: Vladimir Putin
Putin is definitely the strongest 1-seed in this tournament. Despite going up against Yanukovych, infamous for reportedly being behind that crazy poisoning incident in 2006 and in the news recently for imprisoning virtually everyone who opposes him, Putin is unstoppable. He’s managed to craft a complex authoritarian apparatus that leaves supposedly comparable unfree states in the dust. In this round, it’s definitely Putin.

Game 14: King Abdullah vs.  King Abdullah II
Our winner: King Abdullah
It’s not just the names. They’re both family heirs to a throne and claim divine lineage. They both, while friendly to the West, hold nearly all national power consolidated in their lands. They’ve also both promised lip service reforms in the wake of the Arab Spring. But if there’s one game where anecdotal evidence is necessary to make a decision, it’s this one. So, sorry Mr. Abdullah II. Just like everyone else associated with Georgetown, you’re bound to lose in the first round.

Game 15: Hu Jintao vs. Islam Karimov
Our winner: Islam Karimov
China is led not as much by Hu Jintao as it is by committee. When Hu leaves his position–an assumption not appropriate for many of the others in this round–not much will change in a country ruled more by projections of party power than personal power. And let’s not forget the cult of personality factor–that’s a major differentiating characteristic between “autocrat” and “dictator.” With 21 years of uninterrupted rule under his belt, Karimov is the clear winner here. Oh, and bonus points for boiling people alive.

Game 16: Aleksandr Lukashenko vs. Omar al-Bashir
Our winner: Aleksandr Lukashenko
While Lukashenko has made headlines over the past few days after barring his critics from leaving the country, it would be difficult to compare the violations committed in Belarus to those notorious in Darfur. But Sudan’s president hasn’t even gotten to that point of the judging. Facing a revolt from his own military things, are not looking good for al-Bashir’s long-term sustainability. It’s hard to be a dictator when you’re ousted and powerless. This round goes to Lukashenko.



  • It’s not at all clear to me how FP will rank the dictators. Are they looking for the dictator with the most democratic or authoritarian leanings? How will they decide the final match between the winner of the democrat bracket and the dictator one?

  • I’m not entirely sure it’s clear to the FP editors themselves–especially if you look back at last year’s results and the results of the first four “games.”

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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