In the last decades a couple of illiberal democracies has emerged. It is common in these that while formally they are democracies, the democratic institutions are extremely weak, and the leaders and their parties basically control the whole state leaving no realistic chance for the opposition to overthrow them. The checks and balances of the power are either completely lacking or they are constantly becoming weaker and weaker. These countries are usually members of a few international organisations, but they are not participating seriously in them. Usually, these international institutions do not have the interest or the power to withhold these leaders. There was some point in their past when for some time it seemed they really want democracy, but then they just slowly turned back to authoritarianism. The most well-known examples today are Russia and Turkey, but one can also include Hungary, and probably Serbia, etc.

My question is that do you know any successful opposition parties in an illiberal democracy (or half democracy)? By successful I mean one that really had or has the chance to overthrow the leader or which somehow could reach so many people that the actual power really had to fear about it.

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    Maybe Iran (I consider reformers versus conservatives a puppet show) or Indonesia meet your criteria?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 2:28
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    Mexico may be relevant -- 71 years of single-party rule (1929-2000), but with at least the forms of democracy in place for all of that time, and ending peacefully with election victory for an opposition party. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 9:50
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    "the leaders and their parties basically control the whole state leaving no realistic chance for the opposition to overthrow them" - Your definition basically already excludes successful opposition; if there was, it would not be an illiberal democracy according to your definition.
    – Thern
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 10:30
  • When the opposition becomes successful in an illiberal democracy it ceases to be one. Voting to close as unclear because you need to be clearer in your definitions and criteria for this to be objectively answerable.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 18:44
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    Technically my question may sound inconsistent with my definition of an illiberal democracy. But please note, that in an illiberal democracy "success" is different for an opposition party than in a real democracy. It is even a success for them if they can make the government to fear a littlebit of loosing the control, or if they can serve as a balance in some particular cases or particular areas of the state. As Royal Canadian Bandit said, many such little steps during decades can lead to a real change in the system. That is way I ask for good practices of this. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


A system of government in which elections are held and one of more genuine opposition parties are permitted to exist, but as a practical matter it is almost impossible for the opposition party to elect enough representatives to have meaningful influence in governmental policy making, is called a "dominant party system". These systems are also sometimes called "semi-democracies."

Some of the leading examples include Mexico from 1929-2000, during which the same party (the PRI) always won national elections, the Democratic Party in many U.S. states in the former Confederate States from the end of Reconstruction (in the late 1800s) until the early 1960s, Iran for a significant part of its history, and Russia for a significant part of its post-communist era. Another example is the Democratic Party in the State of Hawaii, where Democrats control all statewide elected offices, all federal elected offices, 24 of 25 seats in the state senate (after winning every seat in the state senate for a two year period), and 47 out of 51 seats in the state house, and have done so for many years. Many other examples around the world are identified in the link above.

Sometimes these countries transition from having a dominant party system to a competitive more than one party system gradually, with an emergent party gradually winning a few more minor seats in local governments and a few legislative seats until eventually it wins control of a local government or enough legislative seats to have the opportunity to form a legislative coalition with other minor parties. For example, this is what happened in the American South and in Mexico and what is happening to some extent in Iran.

Sometimes these countries transition away from having a dominant party system in a punctuated fashion, often due to a schism in the formerly dominant party that brings elected officials with it (sometimes after the collapse of another political party as in the case of the birth of the Republican party in the U.S.), or in an electoral movement suddenly mobilized for a single election based upon a celebrity candidate or with a social movement reacting to some galvanizing event in what had previously been a moribund opposition party organization.

Similarly, a galvanizing event or celebrity can sometimes cause a competitive political system to become a dominant party system. For example, the Great Depression led to this result in the United States with the Democratic party becoming the dominant party. In many countries (e.g. India and South Africa) the party the led the movement for the nation's independence initially becomes the dominant party.

Another situation that sometimes emerges is that a political system is nominally a one party system or a non-partisan system, but stable factions of members of the only legally permitted political party, or of non-partisan elected officials, that are comparable to political parties, emerge within this system and contest with each other for political power over the government or entity in question.

This is how political parties emerged in both France and the U.S., historically. This is also present, for example, in the internal politics of the Roman Catholic Church, and in the internal politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia.

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