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How Economic Crises Make Incumbent Leaders Change Their Regimes from Within

May 15, 2023
Vilde Lunnan Djuve and Carl Henrik Knutsen


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Vilde Lunnan Djuve, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo, and Carl Henrik Knutsen, professor of political science at the University of Oslo, analyze the relationship between economic crisis and incumbent-guided regime transitions.

In March 2020, COVID-19 generated a major emergency in countries across the world with public fear of the virus, lockdowns, and economies going into a tailspin. Yet, observers and citizens in many countries were worried about one additional thing, namely that their leaders would use the ongoing crisis as a window of opportunity for concentrating power in their own hands and thereby (further) undermine democracy. This was the case in Hungary, for example, where Viktor Orban’s government was granted the power to rule by decree. Such fears are not unfounded: History suggests that whenever leaders declare states of emergency in response to a (perceived or real) crisis, democratic decline becomes much more likely.

The COVID-19 crisis, in many ways, was unprecedented in its global scope and wide-ranging ramifications. Yet, even more conventional crises such as a “regular” economic recession with increased unemployment and reduced incomes, could have notable political consequences. From previous research, we also know that crises are related to various tumultuous political events such as civil warcoups d’état, and revolutions.

But very often regimes are changed not by some outside force such as military officers conducting coups or by revolutionaries in the streets. Instead, global data from the last two centuries show that the incumbent regime elites, including the sitting leaders themselves, are very often involved as key actors in processes of regime change. Does economic crisis increase the chances also of such incumbent-guided transitions?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.