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Rethinking anti-corruption in de-democratising regimes

Regime type matters for the choice of anti-corruption approaches. In recent years, most anti-corruption investments have been allocated to democratising regimes. Today several of these countries are backsliding, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Hungary, Tanzania, Turkey, and Zambia, among others. Often, de-democratisation is disguised as an effort to strengthen government efficiency or enact anti-corruption measures. Would-be autocrats use corruption to finance and sustain their power grab and may weaponise anti-corruption institutions towards the same end. Practitioners need to rethink anti-corruption efforts in de-democratising regimes.

27 April 2021
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Main points

  • Democracy is under threat around the world. In some countries, democracy has broken down and is giving way to autocracy.
  • De-democratising regimes were once democratic or clearly democratising states, but are now sliding backwards. They are not yet fully authoritarian but have taken substantial steps towards authoritarianism.
  • Most de-democratising countries have democratically elected populist leaders. These illiberal leaders are now threatening democratic institutions and norms.
  • In such countries, the opposition is stifled, institutional systems of checks and balances are undermined, and rules of the game are changed to lock in the leader’s advantage.
  • The consequences for anti-corruption are severe. Traditional governance-focussed reforms are rolled back. Illiberal leaders may even weaponise anti-corruption, abusing state institutions like anti-corruption commissions to cripple the opposition.
  • Anti-corruption efforts need to be aligned with a broad democratisation agenda in which corruption is understood as a political phenomenon.
  • First, anti-democratic politicians and their strategies should be identified. Second, anti-corruption should strengthen the institutions not yet wing-clipped, reinforce the remaining opposition, civil society, and media not yet stifled, and protect free and fair elections before it’s too late.

Cite this publication

Amundsen, I.; Jackson, D.; (2021) Rethinking anti-corruption in de-democratising regimes. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2021:5)

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This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


anti-corruption measures, political economy, political corruption