Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Unusual Types of Governments Around the World

Dishonest people are usually the loudest ones trying to convince others that they are honest. Is it the same story with states? Every state in the world claims that they are free and safe democracies. 

Only 4 countries in the world officially admit that they are not democracies. Can you tell which 4 countries officially admit that they are not democracies

Find the answer at the end of this article. (Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that these 4 countries are honest, while others are not!)

Photo source: Screen capture from here

Importing democracy has been a political fashion in the last few years. Time will tell how it succeeds. Democracy is however, only one form of government. There are many others currently in use around the world. Historically, many countries e.g., China and Russia have experimented with different types of governments in their glorious past. Some have worked better than others.

What works when depends on a lot of factors and typically we are always wiser in hindsight. Despotic, liberal, monarchy, democracy, sultanate - these are some of the different political systems of government that can be found in the world. If we look at the types of governments found in the world today, we shall see some unusual ones like kritarchy too.

Types of Governments Found around the World

Ethnocracy – Hitler’s dream for the thousand-year-Reich! One ethnic group dominates the state and its mechanisms and the government is explicit in its aims to serve the interests of this solitary ethnic group e.g., Israel.

Ochlocracy – Mob rule or absence of clear authority. One of the only definitions political theorists agree on about what is a state – the monopoly of the use of violence, is not often valid in such cases. E.g., Libya after the toppling of Gaddafi.

Plutocracy – A small group of the wealthiest citizens have practically all the power. Historically Italian seafaring merchant states such as Genoa, Venice were plutocracies. The City of London (the financial district, not the whole city) has 450, 000 non-resident well-off financial employee non-resident voters decide things there rather than the 9 000 residents. Some people consider USA to be behaving like a plutocracy.

Kritarchy – Rule by judges. Ancient Israel described in the Book of the Judges (1380-1050 B.C.). Currently only Somalia is ruled by the Islamic Courts Union but Palestinian courts have women judges also. 

Oligarchy – Power rests effectively in the hands of a tiny group of elite people. Some people consider South Africa in the 20th century (especially during Apartheid) and modern Russia, with about 40 oligarchs owning more than $1 billion as examples of oligarchy.

Stratocracy – Rule by military chiefs. This is different from military dictatorship, which illegally usurps power. In stratocracy, military leaders fill all the important posts. Whether society sanctions this without coercion, is entirely a different matter. Myanmar or Burma is an example.

Bureaucracy – Non-elected officials rule the state, usually because elected politicians are not able to form a government. Bureaucrats ran the Netherlands (a constitutional monarchy otherwise) for 207 days in 1977, without an elected government. Iraq eventually broke this record of modern times in 2010.

Theocracy – Government by people who are regarded by followers of a faith as divinely guided. The Vatican is an example. The CIA considers Iran to be a Theocratic Republic. Some people allege that the US state of Utah is a theocracy as 90% of the state legislature  and 80% of the judiciary are Mormons. 

Ergatocracy – Another name for a communist state or rule by the working class. Early Soviet Union could be considered an example.

Exilarchy – Basically a government in exile. The Tibetan government in exile in India, and the Biafran Government in Exile are examples.

Diarchy – Rule by two equal heads of states sharing power. Ancient Rome had consuls sharing power. The only current example is Andorra with two co-princes sharing power until death. One of the princes is the sitting President of France, currently François Hollande.

Photo source: 1 and 2

Kleptocracy – Basically a plutocracy, but the leader or leaders are solely focused on embezzling almost all the money available. A good example would be the rule of Mobutu, King of the African country of Zaire.

Zaire dictator MobutuSese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga with US President Nixon

Meritocracy – Usually used in connection with workplaces. Some strong rulers have used meritocracy to differentiate their rule from aristocratic and inherited power systems preceding them. Genghis Khan in the Mongol Empire and Napoleon, in his early days are old examples. Today only Singapore officially claims to be a meritocracy. 

President of Singapore Tony Tan Keng Yam   Photo source:

Timocracy – Rule by property owners and by people who have a strong love of honour. Early United States could be considered as an example.

Monarchy – Rule by a hereditary monarch. We have basically two kinds of monarchy: constitutional monarchy, where the monarch stays in the ceremonial role and does not interfere with elected rulers like the prime minister and parliament as in the UK. The other kind is absolute monarchy or autocracy as in Brunei, who is called the Sultan of Brunei. Absolute monarchs can also be elected as the Pope in Vatican is. Monarchy is not so common in the world today compared to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Currently there are 44 countries with a monarch as a head of state (16 of these are commonwealth realms).

Democracy – This can be direct democracy, where citizens personally take part in decision-making as in the Swiss cantons of Glarus and Appenzell Innerhoden in Switzerland or representative democracy, or representative democracy e.g., UK.

The people in Appenzell Innerhoden are proud to report that this institution of Landsgemeinde has been working since 1378, though the original paper deed recording the foundation is missing now.

In case you tried to guess like me, North Korea is a wrong answer. Officially that country is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The 4 countries are Brunei, Burma, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican. 

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