Populism and Regime Change: The Andes in Comparative Perspective

Does populism in power lead inexorably to the end of electoral democracy? And if not, what explains why populism leads to regime change in some cases but not in others? In this article, Julio Carrión answers these question by comparing the evolution of populism in power in five Latin American countries from the Andes region: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Carrión explains that populist leaders are elected when two critical antecedents are both present: deep popular unsatisfaction with existing political choices, and deeply divided or disorganised political elites. At this point, whether democracy survives or it is replaced by authortiarian rule, it depends on the outcome of what Carrión calls “Hobbesian moment”. This is a conflict between populist leaders—who want to expand their power—and socio-institutional elements fighting to preserve the checks and balances crucial for the functioning of liberal democracy.

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