The Weakness of the Strongman

Power Grabs by Putin and Xi May Bode Well for Democracy’s Future

Xi and Putin shake hands in Moscow, June 2019 Li Xueren Xinhua / eyevine / Red​ux

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his support for a constitutional change to allow him two more terms in office. When these terms end in 2036, he will be 84 years old and—if he makes it—the longest-ruling leader in Russian history.

Although Putin’s longevity stands out, Russia’s turn to personalist rule—in which political power is increasingly concentrated in a single individual—is part of a broader trend. China, for example, seemed until recently to be cementing a one-party regime in which elites shared power and maintained a functional mechanism of succession. But over the past couple of years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has abolished term limits and concentrated political power, often at the expense of other institutions, such as the Chinese Communist Party and the military. Other countries, such as Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte, have also seen regimes

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