A young outsider, Nayib Bukele, won the presidency in 2019 promising change. In office, however, he has curbed basic rights, purged judges, jailed thousands with little due process and deployed the army, all in what he calls an emergency measure to fight crime.
Still, even as rights groups and international monitors raise alarms, Mr. Bukele has grown wildly popular, a reminder that, in today’s world, would-be strongmen are often cheered while on the rise.
Once South America’s oldest democracy and wealthiest economy, Venezuela has collapsed into an economic disaster zone, with much of the population hungry and ruled under what is widely considered a dictatorship.
The country is often held up by democracy scholars as representative of how democracies tend to decline today: slowly, pulled down from within by elected populists who treat opponents and institutions as illegitimate, and whose actions may initially be quite popular.
The leader who oversaw much of this decline, the leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, died in 2013. His successor, Nicolás Maduro, has overseen deadly crackdowns on protesters, as well as asserting forceful control over the courts and legislature.
Czech Republic and Slovenia
When the populist outsider and billionaire media tycoon Andrej Babis became the prime minister of the Czech Republic in 2017, there were fears he might follow the path created by Mr. Orban in Hungary toward arch-conservative illiberalism. As nearby Slovenia elected its own right-wing populist, concerns arose of a bloc of nations that might break the European Union from within.
While Mr. Babis did inch his country in that direction, he was ultimately felled in the 2021 elections, when several opposition parties banded together against the leader they called a threat to Czech democracy. Slovenian voters cast out their populist government the next year. Both countries served as demonstrations that doubts around democracy can still sometimes recede.
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