Oligarchy: Rule by a Few
Oligarchy is a form of government where most political power rests with a small group (typically the wealthiest or most ruthless elite). Oligarchies are often controlled by a few powerful families, often at the expense to those governed.
There are five different types of oligarchies: (1) country controlled by the military elite called a junta; (2) country controlled by the wealthy elite called a plutocracy; (3) country controlled by social class called an aristocracy; (4) country controlled by religious leaders called a theocracy; and (5) a combination of 1-4.
Any form of government may transform into an oligarchy at some point. The most likely way for this transformation is a gradual gain of unchecked power by the elites. Oligarchies may also evolve into other authoritarian forms of government, sometimes as the result of one person gaining more power over the others.
A modern example of oligarchy was South Africa during the 20th Century. Here, the South African form of oligarchy was based on racism. After the Boer War, an agreement was reached between the English and Afrikaans speaking whites. Together, they made up about 20% of the population, but this small percentage had access to virtually all the educational and trade opportunities. Then this small group proceeded to deny these opportunities to the black majority. Although this process had been going on for a long time, after 1948 it became the official government policy and was known worldwide as apartheid. South Africa eventually ended apartheid, and became a more democratic government in 1994.