The art of keeping the people down

Authoritarian leaders such as Putin, Maduro, Assad and Orbán attach great importance to complying with the country's constitution. That is why they often change it.

For example, this summer, the Russians voted for a constitutional amendment that would allow Putin to serve as president until 2036. Nicolás Maduro's government in Venezuela relies on the 1999 constitution, which was introduced under his predecessor Hugo Chávez. In 2012, Syria got a new constitution that apparently opened up for democratization of the country, despite the fact that the civil war was already in full swing by then. In 2011, Hungary received a new constitution which states that there is a single Hungarian nation with Christian roots and which is responsible for the fate of all Hungarians.

But why are they authoritarian the leaders so preoccupied with constitutions when they already have so much power? Within the liberal constitution theory, which is almost dominant in our part of the world, the authoritarian constitutions appear only as pure discretion, and thus as theoretically uninteresting. This is unfortunate, says the German legal philosopher Günter Frankenberg, as the authoritarian regimes actively use the constitution to obtain. . .

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