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 regime, but operates in practice like an absolute monarchy, 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.

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

Family dictatorships distinguished from other forms of succession[edit]

A family dictatorship is different from an absolute monarchy, and the ruler does not usually base his 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]

Dates in parentheses denote the period of rule.

Indirect successions[edit]

Unsuccessful transitions of power[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 US invasion of Iraq and the death of both his sons, followed by Saddam's trial and subsequent execution made succession a moot point.

Potential successions[edit]


  1. ^ North Korean leader Kim Jong-il 'names youngest son as successor', The Guardian, 2 June 2009
  2. ^ "North Korea: A 'Brilliant Comrade'". The New York Times. 12 June 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2009. 
  3. ^ "Report: NKorea's Kim has pancreatic cancer", Associated Press, 12 July 2009.
  4. ^ Fackler, Martin (2011-12-19). "Kim’s Heir Likely to Focus on Stability". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Johnson, RW; Town, Cape (September 3, 2006). "Playboy waits for his African throne". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]