Family dictatorship

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A hereditary dictatorship, or family dictatorship, in political science terms a personalistic regime, is a form of dictatorship that occurs in a nominally or formally republican or socialist regime, but operates in practice like an absolute monarchy or despotate, in that political power passes within the dictator's family. Thus, although the key leader is often called president or prime minister rather than a king or emperor, power is transmitted between members of the same family due to the overwhelming authority of the leader. Sometimes the leader has been declared president for life and uses this power to nominate one of his or her family as successor.

A family dictatorship is different from a monarchy (where the descent is required by general constitutional law), or a political family (where members of the family possess informal, rather than formal and overwhelming political authority).

Distinguishing features[edit]

A family dictatorship is different from an absolute monarchy, and the ruler does not usually base his or her authority on the concept of divine right. In the latter, the transition of power within a family is required by general law as part of the state's constitutional arrangement, and continues to apply to all successions in the regime. In the former, this arrangement is not required by general law. In some cases, a special law might be enacted to formally nominate one particular family member of the present leader as the successor. In other cases, the law of the state may even formally provide for elections, but control exerted by the leader on the political and electoral process ensures a hereditary succession. Furthermore, whether each succession succeeds depends on the level of authority and control of the leader. As a result, modern family dictatorships often transition into a non-familial (non-personalistic) regime after a small number of successions: usually just one, and rarely more than two.

A family dictatorship is also different from other political families. In the latter, informal power and influence accrued to the family enables the family to continue to hold political power, often through open and contested elections. In the former, the family uses either formal legal or political power or control to ensure a familial succession, and usually via a controlled or uncontested election, or no election at all.

Because a family dictatorship exerts significant control on its succession, a successor is often determined well in advance. However, because it often lacks a formal general law basis for the succession, there are often long periods of uncertainty as to the identity of the successor. As often happens in other types of totalitarian regimes which plan their own succession, after a successor is determined or short-listed, they often go through a significant period of "grooming", in which the successor gains the experiences and qualifications aimed to make him or her attain the authority necessary to lead the regime.

Successful transitions of power[edit]

Kim Jong-Un, supreme leader of North Korea and member of the three-generation Kim dynasty is a prominent example of family dictatorship.

Dates in parentheses denote the period of rule.


Central and South America[edit]


The Al-Assad family has ruled Syria since 1971.
  • North Korea: Kim Il-sung (1948–1994), succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il (1994–2011), succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un (2011–present). Kim Jong-il did not officially take office until 1997, when his father was posthumously given the position of Eternal President. On 2 June 2009, it was reported that Kim Jong-il's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was to be North Korea's next leader.[3] Like his father and grandfather, he was given an official sobriquet, The Great Successor and The Brilliant Comrade.[4] It was reported that Kim Jong-il was expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012,[5] but Kim Jong-il died in 2011 and Kim Jong-un was nevertheless announced as his successor.[6] The 2013 edition of the "Ten Fundamental Principles of the Korean Workers' Party" – Article 10, Clause 2 – states that the Party and Revolution must be carried "eternally" by the "Baekdu (Kim's) bloodline".[7] See also Kim Dynasty.
  • Iraq: Abdul Salam Arif (President, 1963–1966); succeeded by his brother Abdul Rahman Arif (1966–1968).
  • Syria: Hafez al-Assad (1971–2000), succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad (2000–present). Bashar's elder brother, Basil al-Assad, had been designated for the presidency but died in 1994, six years prior to his father's death. See also Al-Assad family.


Indirect successions[edit]

Unfulfilled successions[edit]

Potential successions[edit]

See also[edit]


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