Seraphine Maerz | 2016

The Electronic Face of Authoritarianism: E-Government as a Tool for Gaining Legitimacy in Competitive and Non-Competitive Regimes

in: Government Information Quarterly, 33:4, 727–735

E-government in autocracies is used as a seemingly democratic pattern of legitimation which became increasingly popular during the last decade. The most current data of the UN e-government survey (2014) show that several autocracies massively expand their online facilities. Recent studies question the widespread assumptions that such initiatives improve transparency and foster democratization. They propose the hypothesis that authoritarian regimes set up e-government as a response to globalization pressures and to demonstrate modernity and legitimacy to the international community. However, this article argues that the hypothesis does not account for the variations of e-government across different types of authoritarian regimes and suggests a refinement.

The qualitative assessment of four post-Soviet authoritarian regimes points to crucial differences of how e-government is used to legitimate authoritarianism. While the non-competitive regimes of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan create their web presences primarily for an international audience, the article finds a surprising citizen-responsiveness on the websites of the competitive regimes of Kazakhstan and Russia. This article proposes a new concept of e-government in autocracies and illustrates that some type of competitive authoritarian regimes use their websites not only for gaining external legitimacy but also as an efficient tool for obtaining the support of their people by offering online services and simulating transparency and participation.

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