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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).
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
Dates in parentheses denote the period of rule.
- Roman Republic: Gaius Julius Caesar (49–44 BCE) succeeded by his grand-nephew and adopted son Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (44–27 BCE).
- Roman Empire: The early dynasties of the Roman Empire operated similarly to a family dictatorship. Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE) kept up the facade of a republic during his reign but designated his own successor, Tiberius, by adopting Tiberius and convincing the Senate to transfer his powers to Tiberius (14 CE–37 CE) upon his death. For three hundred years, subsequent emperors customarily designated their successor by adoption. From the reign of Diocletian (284–305) onwards, emperors ruled in an openly monarchic style.
- Dutch Republic: Stadtholders were chosen exclusively from the House of Orange-Nassau. In all, nine princes of this dynasty ruled the Republic from 1559 to 1795. Stadtholders were described as dictators by William Aglionby in his 1669 book, The Present State of the United Provinces of the Low-Countries.
- Commonwealth of England: Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) succeeded as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth by his son Richard Cromwell (1658–1659). Richard Cromwell was overthrown by the army in Spring, 1659, leading to the restoration of King Charles II the next year.
- Albania: Enver Hoxha (First Secretary of the Party of Labour, 1944–1985; Prime Minister, 1944–1954); succeeded by his wife Nexhmije Hoxha (1986–1990) as Chairwoman of the Democratic Front of Albania.
- Azerbaijan: Heydar Aliyev (President, 1993–2003); succeeded by his son Ilham Aliyev (2003–present).
Central and South America
- Paraguay: Carlos Antonio López (President, 1840–1862); succeeded by his son, Francisco Solano López (1862–1870)
- El Salvador: Carlos Meléndez (President, 1915–1918), succeeded by his brother Jorge Meléndez (1919–1923), succeeded by his brother-in-law Alfonso Quiñónez Molina (acting 1918–1919, 1923–1927)
- Dominican Republic: Rafael Trujillo (de facto 1930–1961, with brother Héctor serving as figurehead president 1952–1960), nominally succeeded by his son Ramfis Trujillo for a few months in 1961; Ramfis failed to fully consolidate his power over the country and was overthrown.
- Nicaragua: Anastasio Somoza García (President, 1937–1947, de facto 1947–1950, 1950–1956), succeeded by his son Luis Somoza Debayle (1956–1963, de facto 1963–1967), succeeded by his brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle (1967–1972, de facto 1972–1974, 1974–1979). See also Somoza family.
- Argentina: Juan Perón (President, 1946–55 and 1973–74); succeeded by his wife Isabel Martínez de Perón (1974–76). See also Peronism.
- Haiti: François Duvalier (President and later President for life, 1957–1971); succeeded by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (President For Life, 1971–1986). See also Duvalier dynasty.
- Cuba: Fidel Castro (1959–2011), succeeded by his brother Raúl Castro, current First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (2011–present).
- 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. Like his father and grandfather, he was given an official sobriquet, The Great Successor and The Brilliant Comrade. It was reported that Kim Jong-il was expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012, but Kim Jong-il died in 2011 and Kim Jong-un was nevertheless announced as his successor. 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". 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.
- Gabon: Omar Bongo (Acting President, 1966–1967; President, 1967–2009) died in June 2009. His son Ali Bongo Ondimba (2009–present) succeeded him after winning a disputed election in August 2009.
- Togo: Gnassingbé Eyadéma (President, 1967–2005); succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbé (2005–present). Under international pressure, Faure had to resign on 25 February 2005, but was elected to the presidency in April 2005.
- Djibouti: Hassan Gouled Aptidon (President, 1977–1999); succeeded by his nephew Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (1999–present).
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: Laurent-Désiré Kabila (President, 1997–2001); succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila (2001–2019). Joseph Kabila was democratically elected in October 2006.
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- Republic of China (Taiwan): Chiang Kai-shek (1928–1975) indirectly succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo (1978–1988)
- Chechnya: Akhmad Kadyrov (2000–2004) indirectly succeeded by his son Ramzan Kadyrov (2007–present)
- China: After the death of Mao Zedong (1949–1976) his wife Jiang Qing planned a bloodless coup with the Gang of Four.
- South Vietnam: Ngô Đình Diệm (Prime Minister, 1954–1955; President, 1955–1963) intended to hand power to his brother, Ngô Đình Nhu until both were arrested and assassinated during the 1963 coup.
- Philippines: Ferdinand Marcos (1965–1986) intended his wife Imelda to be his successor but was ousted through the People Power Revolution.
- Romania: Elena Ceaușescu, wife of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu (President of the State Council, 1967–1989; President, 1974–1989), was intended to succeed her husband until they were executed during the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Also, they were preparing their son, Nicu Ceausescu to succeed them.
- Libya: It was speculated that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second son of then-leader Muammar Gaddafi (Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution, 1969–2011) was going to succeed Gaddafi as leader, but Muammar was overthrown and Saif al-Islam stated that "this is not a farm to inherit". Muammar Gaddafi's fourth son Mutassim Gaddafi was considered Saif al-Islam's strongest competitor in the question of succeeding their father.
- Bangladesh: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1971–1975), the first President of Bangladesh, expected his son Sheikh Kamal to succeed him. Both were assassinated in 1975.
- Yemen: In 2004, Ali Abdullah Saleh (President of North Yemen then President of unified Yemen, 1978–2012) appointed his son, Ahmed Saleh, as commander of the Yemeni Republican Guard – a move interpreted by analysts as designating a family succession. Amid the Yemeni Revolution in 2012 and shortly after being elected president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi dissolved the Republican Guard, effectively removing Ahmed Saleh from any meaningful power.
- Iraq: Saddam Hussein (de facto 1979–2003) designated his elder son Uday Hussein to succeed him as dictator, then changed the succession to his younger son Qusay Hussein after Uday suffered a severe injury in 1996. The U.S. invasion of Iraq and the death of both his sons, followed by Saddam's trial and subsequent execution made a successor irrelevant. See also Saddam's family.
- Angola: In 2010, José Eduardo dos Santos (President, 1979–2017) appointed his cousin Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos as Vice-President of Angola which opened speculation about a succession. However, in 2012, the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola announced President dos Santos' candidacy for re-election instead, because he had no intention to retire until 2017, when João Lourenço was chosen to succeed him instead.
- Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe (Prime Minister then President, 1980–2017) wanted his wife Grace to succeed him, but this was prevented by a military coup.
- Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad (Prime Minister, 1981–2003; 2018–present) once told the high court that he would have made his son, Mukhriz Mahathir, head of government long ago, but this never happened as Mahathir chose Anwar Ibrahim as his successor later.
- Egypt: Hosni Mubarak (President, 1981–2011) groomed his son Gamal Mubarak to become his successor, but was ousted in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
- Tunisia: It was speculated that either Leïla Ben Ali, the wife of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (President of Tunisia, 1987–2011), or their youngest son Mohamed Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali were going to succeed Ben Ali, until the Ben Ali family fled into exile amid the 2011 Tunisian Revolution.
- Kazakhstan: Analysts believed long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev (President, 1991–2019) had been preparing his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to succeed him. Despite a strained relationship during 2013; in September 2016, Dariga was appointed to the Senate – she was designated as head of the Senate's International Affairs, Defense, and Security Committee. On 19 March 2019, Nazarbayev resigned as president and was succeeded by Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev. Following Nursultan's resignation, Dariga was elected Chairwoman of the Senate leading some analysts to believe she would run for president in the scheduled 2020 election. Dariga chose to not run in the snap June 2019 presidential election.
- Venezuela: It was speculated that Adán Chávez, the brother of then-leader Hugo Chávez (President, 1999–2013) was going to succeed Chávez as president, but this never happened. There was also speculation that one of Hugo Chávez's daughters, Maria Gabriela or Rosa Virginia, would succeed him.
- Azerbaijan: The Vice President and First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva is widely considered to be in line to succeed her husband Ilham Aliyev as President of Azerbaijan. Analysts also believe that their daughters Leyla and Arzu are also being prepared as their father's or their mother's successors. On 21 February 2017 Mehriban Aliyeva was appointed Vice President of Azerbaijan, an office that was created through a constitutional referendum in 2016.
- Belarus: It is rumored that President Alexander Lukashenko has been preparing to have his young son Nikolai succeed him. Observers have noted how Lukashenko often brings his son on official engagements. On some occasions Nikolai is given a chair with the other heads of state, in sharp contrast with, for instance, the children of the then-President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov also present in the conference room.
- Cambodia: The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has appointed his eldest son, Hun Manet, to a higher military command to prepare him for the premiership.
- Equatorial Guinea: On 3 August 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power from his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema. It is rumored that his son, the First Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, is his favorite to succeed him (see also 2011 Equatorial Guinean constitutional referendum). However, it is suspected that a power struggle between the younger Teodoro and his uncle Armengol Ondo Nguema might occur after President Obiang's death.
- Nicaragua: On 10 January 2017, Rosario Murillo, wife of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, was appointed as vice president of Nicaragua, which raised speculation that Murillo will succeed Ortega as president later.
- Russia: There's a rumor that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing his daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, to run in the 2024 presidential election, as he's unlikely to run for a fifth term due to his age.
- Tajikistan: On 3 April 2017, Rustam Emomali, the son of President Emomali Rahmon, was elected to the city legislature of the capital and largest city, Dushanbe. This made Rahmon's earlier appointment of Rustam Emomali as Mayor of Dushanbe legal. President Rahmon has other "close relatives" in "high official positions" in Tajikistan. For example, Ozoda Rahmon, one of President Rahmon's daughters, is both her father's chief of the presidential staff and a member of the National Assembly, the upper house of the Tajik parliament.
- Turkey: Some observers believe that especially since the shock of the 2016 coup attempt, President Erdogan tends to trust his own family more than his party or senior bureaucrats. A potential successor could be his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who holds the influential post of finance minister and a seat on the Supreme Military Council.
- Turkmenistan: On 22 March 2017, the son of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Assembly member Serdar Berdimuhamedow, was appointed to chair the parliament's legal affairs committee – a move interpreted to be bringing Serdar closer to succeeding Gurbanguly. On 2 January 2019, Serdar was appointed by his father, President Gurbanguly, as Deputy Governor of the Ahal region. Serdar was elevated to Governor of the Ahal region on 17 June 2019.
- Uganda: Critics believe long-time president Yoweri Museveni has been preparing his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed him. The President's son was commander of Uganda's military elite Special Forces Group until January 2017 when the President appointed him Senior Adviser to the President for Special Operations, plus since 1998 Muhoozi has gone from the rank of Major to Lieutenant General in quick succession. All of this is leading the succession rumours to swell even more.
- Venezuela: There is a rumor that Nicolás Maduro Guerra, the son of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, is being prepared to succeed his father as Maduro Guerra was named in 2017 as the director of a newly created position, the Director General of Delegations and Presidential Instructions of the Vice President; the creation of which is believed to establish a line of succession.
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