When Opposition Strategies Become Undemocratic
On the most recent podcast, Laura Gamboa emphasizes the role of democratic oppositions to pursue meaningful strategies to fight against democratic backsliding. Implicit in her analysis is the fear of overly aggressive strategies that become undemocratic. She contrasts the strategies of the oppositions in Colombia where democracy remains and Venezuela where democracy dissolved. The key difference between the approaches for Gamboa involved the perception of resources available. Venezuelans felt they had few options so they acted out of desperation. In contrast, Colombians saw their position as difficult, but had the patience to preserve their political resources.
The dilemma both oppositions faced is a common one. Monika Nalepa, Georg Vanberg, and Caterina Chiopris put it like this, “On the one hand, the most direct defense against a “closet autocrat” is to remove the incumbent from power before authoritarianism has advanced too far. On the other hand, voters face genuine uncertainty about whether the incumbent is, in fact, a closet autocrat or is pursuing a sincere policy with no intention of undermining democracy.” In the United States, voters removed Trump from power, but in many other countries aspiring autocrats win reelection. So, the opposition is tempted to use undemocratic means to remove them from power.
Gamboa disagrees. She argues a truly democratic opposition must remain committed to the democratic process in their tactics and strategies. Efforts to remove a ‘closet autocrat’ through coups or other forms of pressure like strikes undermine the democratic legitimacy of the opposition. Hugo Chávez used those opening to purge the opposition from institutions and seize more power as a means to defend democracy. It’s a formula many aspiring autocrats use when they face undemocratic behavior from the opposition. At the end of the day, it’s just not possible to preserve democracy through undemocratic means.