Illiberal democracy

An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, hybrid regime or guided democracy,[1] is a governing system in which although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties, thus it is not an "open society". There are many countries "that are categorized as neither 'free' nor 'not free', but as 'probably free', falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes".[2] This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist.[3]

Origin and description

The term illiberal democracy was used by Fareed Zakaria in a regularly cited 1997 article in the journal Foreign Affairs.[4]

According to Zakaria, illiberal democracies are increasing around the world and are increasingly limiting the freedoms of the people they represent. Zakaria points out that in the West, electoral democracy and civil liberties (of speech, religion, etc.) go hand in hand. But around the world, the two concepts are coming apart. He argues that democracy without constitutional liberalism is producing centralized regimes, the erosion of liberty, ethnic competition, conflict, and war. Recent scholarship has addressed why elections, institutions commonly associated with liberalism and freedom, have led to such negative outcomes in illiberal democracies. Hybrid regimes are political systems in which the mechanism for determining access to state office combines both democratic and autocratic practices. In hybrid regimes, freedoms exist and the opposition is allowed to compete in elections, but the system of checks and balances becomes inoperative.

Zakaria's definition was promoted by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in 2014, who made the concept central to the creation of his own party, Fidesz. He claimed that the party's goal was to create "an illiberal state, a non-liberal state [that] does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organisation, but instead includes a different, special, national approach." He claimed that his form of "illiberal democracy" disdained toleration of minorities, believed in strong forms of majoritarianism, rejected checks and balances, and believed in nationalism and separatism. Indeed, he rewrote the Hungarian Constitution to reflect Fidesz's illiberal values, and has an authoritarian-like hold on Hungary, according to Freedom House.

Jennifer Gandhi argues that many autocrats allow elections in their governance to stabilize and reinforce their regimes. She first argues that elections help leaders resolve threats from elites and from the masses by appeasing those capable of usurping power with money and securing the cooperation of the general public with political concessions.[5] Gandhi also claims that illiberal elections serve other useful purposes, such as providing autocrats with information about their citizens and establishing legitimacy both domestically and in the international community, and that these varied functions must be elucidated in future research.[6] One example of the regime durability provided by illiberal democracy is illustrated in Mubarak’s Egyptian regime. Lisa Blaydes shows that under Mubarak’s lengthy rule, elections provided a mechanism through which elites bought votes to support the government (through distributing needed goods and resources to the public) to acquire regime-enforced parliamentary immunity. This enabled them to accumulate illicit wealth and draw from state resources without legal consequence.[7] Such research suggests that, given the stability-providing function of illiberal elections, states governed under illiberal democracies may have low prospects for a transition to a democratic system protected by constitutional liberties.

In order to discourage this problem and promote the development of liberal democracies with "free and fair" elections, Zakaria proposes that the international community and the United States must end their obsession with balloting and promote gradual liberalization of societies. Zakaria advances institutions like the World Trade Organization, the Federal Reserve System, and a check on power in the form of the judiciary to promote democracy and limit the power of people which can be destructive.[4] Illiberal democratic governments may believe they have a mandate to act in any way they see fit as long as they hold regular elections. Lack of liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly make opposition extremely difficult. The rulers may centralize powers between branches of the central government and local government (exhibiting no separation of powers). Media are often controlled by the state and strongly support the regime[8]. Non-governmental organizations may face onerous regulations or simply be prohibited. The regime may use red tape, economic pressure, imprisonment or violence against its critics. Zakaria believes that constitutional liberalism can bring democracy, but not vice versa.


There is a spectrum of illiberal democracies: from those that are nearly liberal democracies to those that are almost openly dictatorships. One proposed method of determining whether a regime is an illiberal democracy is to determine whether "it has regular, free, fair, and competitive elections to fill the principal positions of power in the country, but it does not qualify as Free in Freedom House's annual ratings of civil liberties and political rights."[9] A 2008 article by Rocha Menocal, Fritz and Rakner describes the emergence of illiberal democracies and discusses some of their shared characteristics.[10]

Tentative illustration

In a 2014 speech, after the re-election, Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary described his views about the future of Hungary as an "illiberal state". In his interpretation the "illiberal state" does not reject the values of the liberal democracy, but does not adopt it as a central element of state organisation.[11] Orbán listed Singapore, Russia, Turkey, and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”[12]

The Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin has also been described as an illiberal democracy. Elections take place regularly, but many foreign observers (e.g. from the OSCE) do not consider them free or fair. The rate at which journalists have been murdered in Russia shows the limits of freedom of speech; most major television networks and newspapers are state-owned or influenced by the government and openly support parties that support the government during elections.[13][14] Russia had also moved towards a period of democracy in the early 1990s, but whilst elections remain in place, state control of media is increasing and opposition is difficult.[15]

A classic example of an illiberal democracy is Singapore.[16] During the leadership of Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore acquired full independence, first from Britain and then from Malaysia in the 1960s. At that time, it was structured as a relatively liberal democracy, albeit with some internal security laws that allowed for detention without trial. Over time, as Singapore's ruling People's Action Party government consolidated power in the 1960s and 1970s, it enacted a number of laws and policies that curtailed constitutional freedoms (such as the right to assemble or form associations, bearing in mind that there were race and religious riots at these times), and extended its influence over the media, unions, NGOs and academia. Consequently, although technically free and fair multi-party elections are regularly conducted, the political realities in Singapore (including fear and self-censorship) make participation in opposition politics extremely difficult, leaving the dominant ruling party as the only credible option at the polls.

In a 2015 CNN reportage, Zakaria said that Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a textbook case of illiberal democracy.[17] Erik Meyersson observes that using Freedom House’s measure of liberty, Turkey took the last place among electoral democracies in 2015, scoring worse on the liberty measure than some countries that are not even considered electoral democracies.[18] Using the same Freedom House' liberty measure, Honduras, Bangladesh and Pakistan were the next three most illiberal democracies (in this order). Meyersson also notes that despite Hungary's self-declared illiberalism, it ranked no worse than Bulgaria and ahead of Serbia using Freedom House' liberty measure.[18]


Writers such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way reject the concept of an illiberal democracy, saying it only "muddies the waters" on the basis that if a country does not have opposition parties and an independent media, it is not democratic.[19] They argue that terms like "illiberal democracy" are inappropriate for some of these states because the term implies that these regimes are at their heart democracies that have gone wrong. Levitsky and Way argue that states such as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milošević, Zimbabwe and post-Soviet Russia were never truly democratic and not developing toward democracy, but were rather tending toward authoritarian behavior despite having elections, which were sometimes sharply contested. Thus, Levitsky and Way coined a new term to remove the positive connotation of democracy from these states and distinguish them from flawed or developing democracies: competitive authoritarianism.[20]

According to a study by George Washington University political scientist Michael K. Miller, multiparty autocratic elections predict significantly better outcomes on health, education, gender equality, and basic freedoms relative to non-electoral autocracy. Effects on health and education are as strong as those of democracy and are significantly better than in non-electoral autocracy.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Juan Carlos Calleros, Calleros-Alarcó, The Unifinished Transition to Democracy in Latin America, Routledge, 2009, p. 1
  2. ^ O'Neil, Patrick. Essentials of Comparative Politics. 3rd ed. New York, New York, W. W Norton & Company, 2010. pp. 162–63. Print.
  3. ^ "Define illiberal". 5 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b Fareed Zakaria (November–December 1997). "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  5. ^ Gandhi, Jennifer (2008). Political Institutions Under Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. Introduction.
  6. ^ Gandhi, Jennifer and Ellen Lust-Okar (2009). "Elections Under Authoritarianism". Annual Review of Political Science. 12: 403–422.
  7. ^ Blaydes, Lisa (2010). Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak's Egypt. Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^ "In political theory, an illiberal democracy is defined as one that only pays attention to elections, while it violates, in the years between elections, some core democratic principles, especially freedom of expression": Narendra Modi’s illiberal drift threatens Indian democracy, Financial Times, 18 August 2017.
  9. ^ Diamond, Larry & Morlino Leonardo. Assessing the Quality of Democracy, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p. xli
  10. ^ Rocha Menocal, A., Fritz, V. & Rakner, L. "Hybrid regimes and the challenges of deepening and sustaining democracy in developing countries", South African Journal of International Affairs, 2008, 15(1), pp. 29–40
  11. ^ "Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Speech at the 25th Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp". 30 July 2014. And so in this sense the new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organisation, but instead includes a different, special, national approach.
  12. ^ "Orban Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary". 28 July 2014. Retrieved 22 October 2017 – via
  13. ^ Illiberal Democracy and Vladimir Putin's Russia. "Collegeboard". July 2004
  14. ^ Sultan or democrat? The many faces of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, CBC, 5 June 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  15. ^ Whatever happened to glasnost?, BBC News, February 7, 2009.
  16. ^ Mutalib, H. Illiberal democracy and the future of opposition in Singapore. Third World Quarterly, 2000. 21(2), pp. 313–42.
  17. ^ "What in the World: Turkey's transition into an illiberal democracy - CNN Video". Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  18. ^ a b "Which country has the most illiberal democracy in the world?". 18 June 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  19. ^ Halperin, M. H., Siegle, J. T. & Weinstein, M. M. The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace. Routledge, 2005. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-415-95052-7.
  20. ^ Levitsky, Steven & Lucan Way. Assessing the Quality of Democracy, Journal of Democracy, April 2002, vol. 13.2, pp. 51–65
  21. ^ Miller, Michael K. (2015-10-01). "Electoral Authoritarianism and Human Development". Comparative Political Studies. 48 (12): 1526–62. doi:10.1177/0010414015582051. ISSN 0010-4140.

Further reading

  • Bell, Daniel, Brown, David & Jayasuriya, Kanishka (1995) Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-333-61399-3.
  • Thomas, Nick & Thomas, Nicholas. (1999) Democracy Denied: Identity, Civil Society, and Illiberal Democracy in Hong Kong, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-84014-760-5.
  • Zakaria, Fareed. (2007) The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-33152-3.
  • Welsh, Jennifer. (2016) "Chapter 4: The Return of Cold War". The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century. House of Anansi Press. ISBN 978-1-4870-0130-8.

External links

Constitutional liberalism

Constitutional liberalism describes a form of government that upholds the principles of classical liberalism and the rule of law. It differs from liberal democracy in that it is not about the method of selecting government. The journalist and scholar Fareed Zakaria explains that constitutional liberalism "is about government's goals. It refers to the tradition, deep in Western history, that seeks to protect an individual's autonomy and dignity against coercion, whatever the source—state, church, or society." Democracy is becoming more common around the world. Freedom House reported that in 2013 there were 118 electoral democracies. Many of these countries are not constitutionally liberal and can be described as illiberal democracies.

Defective democracy

Defective democracies are democracies with certain defects. The concept was proposed by the political scientists Wolfgang Merkel, Hans-Jürgen Puhle and Aurel S. Croissant at the beginning of the 21st century to subtilize the usual distinction of totalitarian, authoritarian, and democratic political systems. It is based on the concept of embedded democracies. There are 4 different forms of defective democracies each varying with specifics of what makes said democracies defective. How each nation reaches the point of being a defective democracy varies on a case by case basis but with many common themes. One recurring theme which has a major impact on the nation’s democracy is the geographical location of the nation. This can have a major impact due to surrounding nations and their influence they can have over other nations in the region. Other causes for defective democracies are: Path of modernization, Level of modernization, Economic trends, Social Capital, Civil Society, Political Institutions, Education.


Dictablanda is a dictatorship in which civil liberties are allegedly preserved rather than destroyed. The word dictablanda is a portmanteau of the Spanish words dictadura ("dictatorship") and blanda ("soft"). There is an element of punning in the expression, involved in that blanda replaces dura, meaning "hard".

The term was first used in Spain in 1930 when Dámaso Berenguer replaced Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja as the head of the ruling military junta (or "directorio militar") and attempted to reduce tensions in the country by repealing some of the harsher measures that had been introduced by the latter. It was also used to refer to the latter years of Francisco Franco's Spanish State, and to the hegemonic 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico, or by Augusto Pinochet when he was asked about his regime and the accusations about his government.

Analogously, the same pun is made in Portuguese as ditabranda or ditamole. In February 2009, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo ran an editorial classifying the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985) as a "ditabranda", creating controversy.In Spanish language, the term dictablanda is contrasted with democradura (a portmanteau of 'democracia' and 'dictadura'), meaning an illiberal democracy — a system in which the government and its leaders are elected, but which is relatively deficient in civil liberties.

Embedded democracy

Embedded democracy is a form of government in which democratic governance is secured by democratic partial regimes. The term "embedded democracy" was coined by political scientists Wolfgang Merkel, Hans-Jürgen Puhle, and Aurel Croissant, who identified "five interdependent partial regimes" necessary for an embedded democracy: electoral regime, political participation, civil rights, horizontal accountability, and the power of the elected representatives to govern. The five internal regimes work together to check the power of the government, while external regimes also help to secure and stabilize embedded democracies. Together, all the regimes ensure that an embedded democracy is guided by the three fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and control.

Feminism in Thailand

Feminism in Thailand is perpetuated by many of the same traditional feminist theory foundations, though Thai feminism is facilitated through a medium of social movement activist groups within Thailand’s illiberal democracy. The Thai State claims to function as a civil society with an intersectionality between gender inequality and activism in its political spheres.

In the Thai state, feminist activism is pivotal upon class structures, which focus on specific facets of public policy based on a woman’s socioeconomic status. The hierarchy of a feminist's issue lies in one's class social strata. The Thai elite focusing on public policy, social equality, and increase in women’s presence within economic confines. The younger Thai generation is depicted as less concerned with their public policy and formal politics; while middle class feminist Thai women express their political concerns through more antiquated and traditional mediums such as artistic performances and published works.


Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈfidɛs]; in full, Hungarian: Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség) is a national-conservative, right-wing populist political party in Hungary.

Founded in 1988 as a liberal youth party opposing the ruling communist government, Fidesz has come to dominate Hungarian politics on the national and local level since its landslide victory in the 2010 national elections on a joint list with the Christian Democratic People's Party, securing it a parliamentary supermajority that it retained in 2014 and again in 2018. Fidesz also enjoys majorities in the county legislatures (19 of 19), almost all (20 of 23) urban counties and in the Budapest city council. Viktor Orbán has been the leader of the party for most of its history.

Guided democracy

Guided democracy, also called managed democracy, is a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy. Such governments are legitimized by elections that are free and fair, but do not change the state's policies, motives, and goals.In other words, the government controls elections so that the people can exercise all their rights without truly changing public policy. While they follow basic democratic principles, there can be major deviations towards authoritarianism. Under managed democracy, the state's continuous use of propaganda techniques prevents the electorate from having a significant impact on policy.The concept of a "guided democracy" was developed in the 20th century by Walter Lippmann in his seminal work Public Opinion (1922) and by Edward Bernays in his work Crystallizing Public Opinion.

After World War II, the term was used in Indonesia for the approach to government under the Sukarno administration from 1957 to 1966. It is today widely employed in Russia, where it was introduced into common practice by Kremlin theorists, in particular Gleb Pavlovsky. Princeton University professor Sheldon Wolin describes this process as inverted totalitarianism.

An important distinction is the one between governments that have elections which are judged not free or fair by observers and governments which have elections considered both free and fair. The Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev has also been described as an illiberal democracy. Elections take place regularly, but many foreign observers (e.g. from the OSCE) do not consider them free or fair. Thirteen Russian journalists were assassinated between 2000 and 2003. Furthermore, most major television networks and newspapers are owned or controlled by the government and only openly support current government and state approved parties and candidates during elections.

Hungarian nationalism

Hungarian nationalism developed in the early 19th century along the classic lines of scholarly interest leading to political nationalism and mass participation.

Inverted totalitarianism

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin coined the term inverted totalitarianism in 2003 to describe what he saw as the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin analysed the United States as increasingly turning into a managed democracy (similar to an illiberal democracy). He uses the term "inverted totalitarianism" to draw attention to the totalitarian aspects of the American political system while emphasizing its differences from proper totalitarianism, such as Nazi and Stalinist regimes.The book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012) by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco portrays inverted totalitarianism as a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics.

Every natural resource and living being is commodified and exploited by large corporations to the point of collapse as excess consumerism and sensationalism lull and manipulate the citizenry into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government.


Mohair is usually a silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat (not to be confused with the Angora rabbit which produces Angora wool). Both durable and resilient, mohair is notable for its high luster and sheen, which has helped gain it the nickname the "Diamond Fiber", and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a textile. Mohair takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair is warm in winter as it has excellent insulating properties, while remaining cool in summer due to its moisture wicking properties. It is durable, naturally elastic, flame resistant and crease resistant. It is considered to be a luxury fiber, like cashmere, angora and silk, and is usually more expensive than most wool that is produced by sheep.Mohair is composed mostly of keratin, a protein found in the hair, wool, horns and skin of all mammals, but its special properties are unique to the Angora goat. While it has scales like wool, the scales are not fully developed, merely indicated. Thus, mohair does not felt as wool does.

Mohair fiber is approximately 25–45 microns in diameter. It increases in diameter with the age of the goat, growing along with the animal. Fine hair from younger animals is used for finer applications such as clothing, and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for carpets and heavy fabrics intended for outerwear.

The term mohair is sometimes used to describe a type of material used for the folding roof on convertible cars. In this instance, mohair refers to a form of denim-like canvas.


Putinisation, a term popularised by Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, is a perceived movement away from liberal democracy in certain Eastern European countries in imitation of the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia.


The term semi-democracy is used to refer to a state that shares both democratic and authoritarian features.The term "semi-democratic" is reserved for stable regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian elements.

Soft despotism

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people.

Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. Soft despotism breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that this trend was avoided in America only by the "habits of the heart" of its 19th-century populace.

Strongman (politics)

A strongman is a political leader who rules by force and runs an autocracy or authoritarian regime or totalitarian regime. The term is often used interchangeably with "dictator" in the western world, but differs from a "warlord" and commonly lacks the negative connotations especially in some Eastern European and Central Asian countries.

A strongman is not necessarily always a formal head of state or head of government; sometimes journalists use the term to describe a military or political figure who exercises far more influence over the government than a local constitution allows. General Manuel Noriega, for example, was often dubbed the "Strongman of Panama" for the enormous amount of political power he exercised over Panama, although he was not the formal president or prime minister of the state. In practice, his role was that of a dictator, or sometimes autocrat.

The Future of Freedom

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad is a book by Fareed Zakaria analyzing the variables that allow a liberal democracy to flourish and the pros and cons of the global focus on democracy as the building block of a more stable society rather than liberty. It was a best-seller in the United States and several other countries. It is being translated into 20 languages at last count. The Future of Freedom is published by W. W. Norton & Company Inc. (2003 ISBN 0-393-04764-4), "with a new afterword", "bibliographical references", and "index" in 2004 (ISBN 0-393-04764-4).

Zakaria's thesis deals with the variables required for a stable and free democracy to be born. In the pursuit of this, his book begins with a historical overview of western democracy and its elements, arguing that not only can a liberal democracy form from a liberalizing autocracy (his most prominent example of this is South Korea), but that it is actually more likely to form and last that way than by trying to democratize the society first and liberalize it later (for this, he makes an example of Western Europe in the early twentieth century). He then goes on to describe illiberal democracies, defined as "regimes... that mix elections and authoritarianism," and argues that they are the result of countries that try to democratize without having a sturdy economy structured around the free-market and sound political institutions with checks and balances. This is then applied to America to argue that the increased democratization of American society and culture is what has caused the perceived failures of the government and governing elites.


In political science and in international and comparative law and economics, transitology the study of the process of change from one political regime to another, mainly from authoritarian regimes to democratic ones.Transitology tries to explain processes of democratization in a variety of contexts, from bureaucratic authoritarianism and other forms of dictatorship in Latin America, southern Europe and northern Africa to postcommunist developments in eastern Europe. The debate has become something of an academic "turf-war" between comparative studies and area studies scholars, while highlighting several problematic features of social science methodology, including generalization, an overemphasis on elite attitudes and behavior, Eurocentrism, the role of history in explaining causality, and the inability to produce testable hypotheses.

Ulbricht Doctrine

The Ulbricht Doctrine, named after East German leader Walter Ulbricht, was the assertion that normal diplomatic relations between East Germany and West Germany could occur only if both states fully recognised each other's sovereignty. That contrasted with the Hallstein Doctrine, a West German policy which insisted that West Germany was the only legitimate German state.

East Germany gained acceptance of its view from fellow Communist states, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, which all agreed not to normalise relations with West Germany until it recognised East German sovereignty.

West Germany eventually abandoned its Hallstein Doctrine, instead adopting the policies of Ostpolitik. In December 1972, a Basic Treaty between East and West Germany was signed that reaffirmed two German states as separate entities. The treaty also allowed the exchange of diplomatic missions and the entry of both German states to the United Nations as full members.


A walkover, also W.O. or w/o (originally two words: "walk over") is the awarding of a victory to a contestant because there are no other contestants or the other contestants have been disqualified or have forfeited. The term can apply in sport but also to elections, when it is also referred to as winning "by default". The word is used more generally by extension, particularly in politics, for a contest in which the winner is not the only participant but has little or no competition. The narrow and extended meanings of "walkover" as a single word are both found from 1829.

Western Bloc

The Western Bloc during the Cold War refers to capitalist countries under the hegemony of the United States and NATO against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The latter were referred to as the Eastern Bloc. The governments and press of the Western Bloc were more inclined to refer to themselves as the "Free World" or the "Western world", whereas the Eastern Bloc was often called the "Communist world or Second world".


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