Government systems that are not liberal republics can be classified into three groups: electoral democracies, electoral autocracies, and closed autocracies. Autocracies are defined as systems of government where one person or one small group has absolute power.
- Electoral democracies regularly hold multiparty elections that are somewhat free and fair, but political and civil rights are weak, and the law is unevenly applied. These deficiencies make it possible to rig elections and legislative outcomes and avoid accountability to voters.
- Electoral autocracies hold de jure multiparty elections for the chief executive, but they fall short of democratic standards due to limitations on political competition and other means of ensuring one group or person holds power. Only a favored few people or groups enjoy any political and civil liberties. Dissent is often repressed.
- In closed autocracies, the chief executive is either not elected or has no competition in an election. Only a favored few people or groups enjoy any political and civil liberties. Dissent is often harshly repressed. Closed autocracies include absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies with active monarchs, military juntas, some theocracies, and one-party states. Within smaller territories, they can also include warlords, drug lords, and crime bosses.
 These groupings and definitions are from the Varieties of Democracy Project which, in turn, is based on Robert Dahl’s 1971 Polyarchy.
Excerpted from Democracy is Precious.
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Image: Assorted autocrats from history. Artist unknown.