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Nepotism is a form of favoritism which is granted to relatives in various fields, including business, politics, entertainment, sports, religion and other activities. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishops.
Nepotism has been criticized since the ancient times by several philosophers, including Aristotle, Valluvar, and Confucius. For instance, the ancient Indian philosopher Valluvar condemned nepotism as both evil and unwise.
The term comes from Italian word nepotismo, which is based on Latin root nepos meaning nephew. Since the Middle Ages and until the late 17th century, some Catholic popes and bishops – who had taken vows of chastity and, therefore, usually had no legitimate offspring of their own – gave their nephews such positions of preference as were often accorded by fathers to sons.
Several popes elevated nephews and other relatives to the cardinalate. Often, such appointments were a means of continuing a papal "dynasty". For instance, Pope Callixtus III, head of the Borgia family, made two of his nephews cardinals; one of them, Rodrigo, later used his position as a cardinal as a stepping stone to the papacy, becoming Pope Alexander VI. Alexander then elevated Alessandro Farnese, his mistress's brother, to cardinal; Farnese would later go on to become Pope Paul III.
Paul III also engaged in nepotism, appointing, for instance, two nephews, aged 14 and 16, as cardinals. The practice was finally limited when Pope Innocent XII issued the bull Romanum decet Pontificem, in 1692. The papal bull prohibited popes in all times from bestowing estates, offices, or revenues on any relative, with the exception that one qualified relative (at most) could be made a cardinal.
Mention in ancient literature
In the second book of the Kural literature, which forms a manual for governments and corporations, Valluvar suggests about nepotism and favouritism thus: "If you choose an unfit person for your job just because you love and you like him, he will lead you to endless follies." According to him, nepotism is both evil and unwise.
Nepotism is a common accusation in politics when the relative of a powerful figure ascends to similar power seemingly without appropriate qualifications. The British English expression "Bob's your uncle" is thought to have originated when Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, promoted his nephew, Arthur Balfour, to the esteemed post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, which was widely seen as an act of nepotism.
Nepotism at work can mean increased opportunity at a job, attaining the job or being paid more than other similarly situated people. Arguments are made both for and against employment granted due to a family connection, which is most common in small, family run businesses. On one hand, nepotism can provide stability and continuity. Critics cite studies that demonstrate decreased morale and commitment from non-related employees, and a generally negative attitude towards superior positions filled through nepotism. An article from Forbes magazine stated "there is no ladder to climb when the top rung is reserved for people with a certain name." Some businesses forbid nepotism as an ethical matter, considering it too troublesome and disruptive.
Outside of national politics, accusations of "nepotism" are made in instances of prima facie favoritism to relatives, in such cases as:
- Peaches Geldof's role as magazine editor in an MTV reality show – produced by a company owned by her father Bob Geldof.
- Tori Spelling's breakout role on Beverly Hills 90210 as a result of her father Aaron Spelling's involvement with the show.
- Hollywood's Coppola family includes many distinguished filmmakers and actors. The careers of Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Cage, and Jason Schwartzman have been attributed to aid by director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast his daughter Sofia in The Godfather Part III. Cage changed his last name in order to distance himself from such charges.
Selected examples by country
In Algeria, during the Bouteflika era, from 1999 to 2019, Bouteflika family members were appointed to different government advisory roles, including Saïd Bouteflika, the younger brother, who later came under investigation for corruption that led to a 20 years prison sentence.
Other brothers and sisters including Nacer Bouteflika (a.k.a Abdelghani), Fatima Bouteflika, and Mustapha Bouteflika assumed other government advisory functions, and had a major influence in all circles of power.
The Kirchnerist party has openly stated the beliefs in nepotism, treating meritocracy as a pejorative concept. The government's ministries and secretariats are plagued with friends, family and militants of the current party leaders, many of which were criticized for not being suitable for the office. This has been very evident during the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Alberto Fernández presidencies.
Shortly after his appointment as the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, Peter Jensen was accused, in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, of nepotism after nominating his brother Phillip Jensen as Dean of Sydney and appointing his wife Christine Jensen to an official position in the Sydney diocese.
In Greece it is common practice for family members of current or former party leaders to be party members and get appointed as ministers when the party is in government. In addition, there have been 3 Prime ministers from the Papandreou family, 2 from the Mitsotakis family (1 currently serving), 2 from the Karamanlis family (a 3rd one is currently serving as Minister of transportation).
Over the past decade, criticism has been growing over the creation of political dynasties in Belgium, in which all of the traditional political parties have been involved. This phenomenon has been explained by the fact that prominent party members control the ranking of candidates on party lists for elections and a candidate's place on a list determines whether or not he or she is elected. Another justification for the phenomenon is the importance of name recognition for collecting votes.
Claims of nepotism have been made against Bruno Tobback, the son of senator and former minister Louis Tobback, a member of the Flemish socialists, became the Belgian federal government's minister for the pensions and environment at 35 in 2005. Alexander De Croo, the son of former speaker of the Belgian parliament Herman De Croo, ran for the leadership of his father's party Open VLD at age 33. Finally there is the example of Maya Detiège, the daughter of former mayor of the city of Antwerp Leona Detiège, who herself is the daughter of the former mayor of Antwerp Frans Detiège. Among other examples are former minister Freya Vandenbossche and senator Jean Jacques De Gucht, being the daughter and son of respectively former minister Luc Vandenbossche and former minister Karel De Gucht.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior members of Parliament are known for their hand in getting family members into government positions. In the 2013 Cambodian parliamentary elections, at least eight candidates were sons of high-ranking Cambodian People’s Party officials. All ruling party sons lost, but were eventually appointed into high-ranking government positions.
For the past 3,000 years, nepotism has been common in China's clan and extended family based culture. Confucius wrote about the importance of balancing "filial piety with merit". The clan-based feudal system collapsed during Confucius' lifetime, yet nepotism has continued through the modern age.
In October 2009, Jean Sarkozy, the second son of the President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy, was poised to become the director of the major EPAD authority despite lacking any higher education degree and professional experience. In 2008 he was voted regional councillor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the town of which his father had previously been mayor.
In September 2009, rap-producer Pierre Sarkozy, the first son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, asked SCPP [fr] for a financial contribution of around €10000 towards an €80000 artistic project. Because he was not a SCPP member, the request was automatically rejected. Pierre Sarkozy then went to the Élysée which led to an Élysée aide contacting the SCPP, and SCPP president Marc Guez assuring the issue would soon be favorably resolved. According to Abeille Music [fr] president and SCPP member Yves Riesel, however, this would not happen as SCPP's financial help has been restricted to members only for months.
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Nepotism in India is common in politics, judiciary, business, the film industry, religious circles, arts, industry, and other types of organizations. Many judges and advocates of the high courts and the Supreme Court of India are alleged to be appointed by exercising casteism, nepotism, and favoritism, primarily due to the Supreme Court and the high court appointment process called Collegium which recommends to the President, in a legally binding manner, the names of judges to be appointed or promoted to the higher judiciary. The various judicial services exams are also infamous for these practices. Rahul Gandhi, Former President of the Indian National Congress party, is a descendant of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi. Data shows since 1999, the Indian National Congress has had 36 dynastic MPs elected to the Lok Sabha, with the Bharatiya Janata Party not far behind with 31 dynastic MPs. Cricket is also affected with nepotism, although to a lesser extent, in the form of Stuart Binny, Rohan Gavaskar, Jay Shah, and very recently Arjun Tendulkar.
Nepotism in the Indian film industry
The Kapoor family, one of the most prolific generational families involved in Indian cinema, have been known for bringing their children into the industry with their endorsements and influence. In June 2020 a fresh debate on nepotism followed soon after the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, which fans believe was in reaction to efforts by Bollywood insiders to boycott him. Filmmaker Karan Johar, who Rajput had worked with in the Netflix film Drive, was quickly accused of nepotism by actress Kangana Ranaut, with Rajput's fans calling for a boycott of Johar and his studio, Dharma Productions, as well as of actor Salman Khan and his brothers, who were accused of bullying outsiders in the past. Actors and actresses Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khatter, Ananya Pandey, Athiya Shetty, Tiger Shroff, Arjun Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan,Ranbir Kapoor all of whom hail from film families, were also widely criticized.
Suharto, Indonesia's second president, is involved in nepotism, alongside corruption and collusion (together, they are known as corruption, collusion, and nepotism Indonesian: korupsi, kolusi, dan nepotisme) (usually abbreviated to as KKN). Companies belonging to Suharto's children, particularly Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana ("Tutut"), Hutomo Mandala Putra ("Tommy"), and Bambang Trihatmodjo, were given lucrative government contracts and protected from market competition by monopolies. Examples include the toll-expressway company Jasamarga (monopolized by Tutut), the national car project Timor (monopolized by Bambang and Tommy), and the cinema market (monopolized by 21 Cineplex, which is owned by Suharto's cousin Sudwikatmono). The family is said to control about 36,000 km2 of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 m2 of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor. Additionally, Suharto's family members received free shares in 1,251 of Indonesia's most lucrative domestic companies (mostly run by Suharto's ethnic-Chinese cronies), while foreign-owned companies were encouraged to establish "strategic partnerships" with the former Indonesian president's family companies.
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Nepotism is very common and very rampant in Mauritian politics, with many relatives and friends of high-ranking politicians being appointed high-ranking positions and associated companies being granted government contracts.
Since the first democratic elections in 1948, the field of politics in Mauritius has been marked by a handful of families who have controlled the four major political parties which exist to this day. They are often referred to as the "modern dynasties" of Mauritian politics such as the Duval, Bérenger, Curé, Uteem, Mohamed, Boolell, Ramgoolam and Jugnauth families. The Boolell family's involvement in politics started with Satcam Boolell in 1955, paving the way for his son Arvin Boolell, nephews Satish Boolell, Anil Gayan, and Sanjay Bhuckory, and son-in-law Sushil Kushiram to enter politics. The Duval dynasty started with ex-Lord Mayor and minister Gaetan Duval, followed by his sons Xavier and Richard as well as grandson Adrien. Lall Jugnauth was the first of his clan to enter politics in the 1950s and was followed by his cousins Aneerood and Ashock as well as nephew Pravind. Abdool Razack Mohamed, who migrated from India in the 1930s, became Lord Mayor and minister; his son Yousuf and grandson Shakeel were also elected and served as ministers. Roshi Bhadain, who was a minister of the MSM government, is the nephew of former Labour Party minister Vasant Bunwaree. Roshi Bhadain and Akilesh Deerpalsing (Bhadain's advisor and campaign manager, who is also the son of former minister Kishore Deerpalsing), were investigated by ICAC in 2019 for suspicious recruitment practices when he was a minister.
Until mid-2020, construction company PAD & Co. Ltd was awarded a string of major contracts such as constructing the new airport control tower, a new weather radar at Trou aux Cerfs, renovating the Bank of Mauritius, rehabilitating the coast line of Cap Malheurueux, renovating the Port Louis waterfront, upgrading roads, constructing the Harbour Cruise Terminal in Port Louis for the Mauritius Port Authority, and upgrading the navigation channels at Port Mathurin, Pointe La Gueule, and Baie aux Huîtres in Rodrigues, among other projects. PAD & Co. Ltd's owner, Alain Hao Thyn Voon, is the son of Philippe Hao Thyn Voon, president of the Olympic Committee, with very close ties to the MSM. Following the St Louis gate scandal and discovery of fake bank guarantees, PAD & Co. Ltd went under voluntary administration.
In June 2020, MP Eshan Juman revealed details of a contract between the Ministry of Land and Housing and a private firm called Smart Clinics Ltd. The firm is partly owned by MSM Parliamentary Private Secretary Ismaël Rawoo and his family. The contract was a lease of 60 years on 2 acres of prime beachfront state-owned land in Grande Rivière Noire, in the exclusive precinct of Tamarin in Black River. As part of the deal, Rawoo's family will acquire the lease for Rs 15.05 million and will onsell the lease for Rs 250 million, generating a profit of around Rs 235 million.
In August 2020, V. Gobin, a 75-year-old retired school teacher and father of Attorney General Maneesh Gobin, was nominated as Chairman of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the Rabindranath Tagore Institute. Maneesh Gobin was elected to Parliament within the ruling MSM government in 2014 and 2019 and his father V. Gobin was elected once in 1987. A week earlier, Rishikesh Hurdoyal, the brother of MSM Minister of Civil Service Vikram Hurdoyal, was nominated as Chairman and President of the Mauritius Shipping Corporation Ltd, in addition to being a director of the State Bank of Mauritius. The new nomination will allow Rishikesh Hurdoyal to receive an extra Rs 54,540 per month, as well as an additional Rs 10,125 per month as entertainment allowance, with access to a chauffeured company car with 245 litres of fuel per month.
Nepotism under Anerood Jugnauth
In May 1992, the Bank of Mauritius issued a Rs 20 note which featured the portrait of Sarojini Jugnauth, wife of Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth. The portrait was considered to be a birthday gift from Anerood to his wife. This developed into a major controversy, which led to Anerood confirming in parliament that he had approved the issue of the new note. He apologised to the population and stated he would not commit such a mistake in the future.
Despite her defeat in the 2014 general elections, Maya Hanoomanjee became Speaker of the National Assembly, Sarojini Jugnauth's niece. In 2015, Maya's daughter Naila was appointed to the newly created position of CEO of the State Property Development Company. In 2018, she was also appointed as CEO of Landscope Mauritius, another state-owned corporation. Maya's other daughter, Sheila, was involved in a controversy in 2017, when it was revealed that her company was allocated the contract to supply biscuits to various state-owned organisations and municipal councils. The tins had misleading labels that read "Made in UK" when in fact they were produced by a local Mauritian baker.
Soon after the retirement of Satyaved Seebaluck in 2016, Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth nominated his close relative Nayen Koomar Ballah as Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to Cabinet. Nayen Ballah is the cousin of Sarojini Jugnauth. In March 2018, Ballah was decorated with the title of Grand Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean.
In 2017, several opposition MPs raised questions in the National Assembly about the business dealings of MSM Minister of Technology Yogida Sawmynaden's wife. It was revealed that the buyer of controversial clinic Apollo Bramwell had been pressured to use the services of notary public Wenda Sawmynaden, Yogida's wife. The private clinic had been valued at Rs 2 billion but was sold for only Rs 77 million. Despite the conflict of interest, Wenda pocketed fees worth Rs 7 million. In another instance political pressure was applied for SIT Property Development Ltd to host an emergency meeting for Wenda to be made the preferred notary public regarding the sale of parcels of prime real estate within a new gated community at Côte-d’Or. Wenda's brother Harry Krishna Vydelingum was also appointed as president of the Mauritius Institute of Training and Development following a failed attempt to make him part of the management board of Mauritius Post. Wenda was also allocated various contracts by various state-run corporations, such as NHDC, the Mauritius House Company, SICOM, the Sugar Investment Trust, the Sugar Industry Pension Fund Board, and various banks.
Following the electoral defeat of the Labour Party in 2014, ex-Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was arrested on suspicions of money laundering and conspiracy. A police raid of his house exposed several safes containing brand new bank notes to the value of Rs 220 million rupees, exclusive credit cards and prescription medication tablets. His girlfriend Nandanee Oogarah-Soornack, accompanied by his Xara, had escaped Mauritius to her castle in Italy a day before the proclamation of election results with an estimated Rs 800 million rupees. Attempts to extradite her back to Mauritius failed. Nandanee's rapid accumulation of wealth with the help of Ramgoolam was closely examined by the press and investigators, and it was revealed how she collected millions of rupees through companies set up as monopolies of food outlets at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport.
After the December 2014 elections, the new government instigated criminal proceedings to recover about 1,000 acres (1,150 arpents) of state-owned land which had been allocated to the activists and allies of Ramgoolam under his Labour government since 2005. The principal recipients of the various lots of Crown land ranged from Labour activists to associates to corporations, and the land was used for varying purposes including resorts, restaurants, and houses. One recipient of the land, Sandranee Ramjoorawon's husband Rajiv Beeharry, was a trusted adviser of Navin Ramgoolam and was appointed as CEO of the state-owned MauBank. Labour Party Treasurer Deva Virahsawmy's company Midas Acropolis was also granted 31 arpents of Crown land at St-Félix after the Labour government cancelled the development permit previously awarded to a businessman from Réunion Island. Prior to the December 2014 elections the ministry held by Deva Virahsawmy approved the Environment Impact Assessment for land clearing of the 31 arpents in preparation of the development of a new hotel. Within the harbour precinct, state land was granted to Beta Cement, owned by Veekram Bhunjun, a relative of ex-minister Rajesh Jeetah. Bhunjun was also awarded 12.5 arpents at Petite-Rivière-Noire via his company Western Marina.
In 2008, a private company called Pride Bridge Limited was formed by Nandanee Soornack's father and his associates. Pride Bridge Ltd was soon granted 30 arpents of pas géométriques state-owned land at Poste de Flacq in 2008 for a "mixed development project" against a deposit of Rs 5 million. However the owners of the well-established estate Constance La Gaité objected against the proposed project by questioning its legality and six years later Soonack's and Chundunsing's company gave up the 30 arpents as Navin Ramgoolam was defeated in the 2014 elections, soon after which Nandanee Soornack fled to Italy.
Ramgoolam's sister Sunita Ramgoolam-Joypaul claimed and received more than Rs 3.1 million from the government as per diem for accompanying the then-PM's wife overseas. One of the visits was in September 2007 when she travelled to New York. Another costly visit was when Sunita Ramgoolam-Joypaul travelled to France in 2008. Veena Ramgoolam claimed and received more than Rs 6 million from the government for accompanying her husband overseas.
Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's family members "dominated" the country for decades. Elena Băsescu, the daughter of President Traian Băsescu, was elected in 2009 to the European Parliament, despite the fact that she had no significant professional or political experience.
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Singapore's government has been the target of numerous charges of nepotism, with several members of the Prime Minister's family holding high posts. Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990, preceded his son Lee Hsien Loong. Other family members holding high positions include Lee Hsien Yang, the director of the National Neurological Institute, and Lee Hsien Yang, the chief executive officer of Singapore Telecommunications from 1995 to 2007. The family members dispute the charges as they arise.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs, son of Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1980 to 2001, has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2001, and his daughter, Maria Teresa Samaranch Salisachs, has been president of the Spanish Federation of Sports on Ice since 2005.
Former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been accused of nepotism, appointing three brothers to run important ministries and giving out other political positions to relatives, regardless of their merit. During his presidency, the Rajapaksa family held the ministries of finance, defence, ports and aviation, and highways and road development. The president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was given the post of Defence Secretary. He also controlled the armed forces, the police and the Coast Guard, and was responsible for immigration and emigration. Rajapaksa appointed his brother Basil Rajapaksa as minister of Economic Development. Together, the Rajapaksa brothers controlled over 70% of Sri Lanka's public budget. Mahinda Rajapaksa's eldest brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, was appointed as the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and has held many other posts before, while his eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa, is also a member of the parliament and holds undisclosed portfolios.
Others include: his nephew, Shashindra Rajapaksa, who is the former Chief minister of Uva; one of his cousins, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya; and another cousin, Udayanga Weeratunga, who is the former ambassador to Russia. Dozens of nephews, nieces, cousins, and in-laws have also been appointed as heads of banks, boards, and corporations.
The Marquess of Salisbury, who was Prime Minister for three separate occasions from 1885 to 1902 for a total of approximately 14 years, appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1887 and later as Prime Minister in 1902. This is supposedly the origin of the phrase "Bob's your uncle".
In February 2010, Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that more than 200 MPs used Parliamentary allowances to employ their own relatives in a variety of office roles. He suggested that the practice should be banned.
In 2005, Councillor Ann Reid of York arranged for all nine sets of traffic lights on her daughter Hannah's wedding route through York to be switched to green for the five-car convoy. As a result, the wedding party took only 10 minutes to pass through the city.
North Yorkshire Police's Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell was disciplined by the IPCC in 2011, but refused to resign, after admitting that he assisted a relative through the first stages of a recruitment process.
Many Northern Irish politicians employ family members. In 2008, 19 elected politicians of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) directly employed family members and relatives constituted 27 of its 136 staff.
Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister was accused of nepotism for having appointed his brother Jo Johnson to the House of Lords, having previously also appointed him to his Cabinet as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.
Jesse Norman is a British Conservative Party politician serving as Financial Secretary to the Treasury since 2019. He has personally endorsed the retrospective 2019 Loan Charge despite there being seven confirmed suicides linked to the charge, including one in which he was named. In 2020, Norman's wife, Kate Bingham was appointed chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce—the group set up to lead UK efforts to find and manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine—despite other more qualified people being proposed.
In December 2012, a report from the Washington Post indicated various nepotism practices from the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia's Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), including one family with five members working for the MWAA. One of the reasons given by the associate general counsel to defend the alleged nepotism was "if [the employees are] qualified and competed for [the positions] on their own, I don’t see a problem with relatives working in the same organization." The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Congress pressured the MWAA to resolve practices of nepotism. Authority employees are no longer allowed to directly or indirectly influence hiring or promotion of relatives, as documented in their ethics policy.
In 1979, Bill Clinton, within weeks of being newly elected as Governor of Arkansas, appointed his wife Hillary to chair of the Rural Health Advisory Committee. In 1993, newly elected as President of the United States, he again appointed his wife to chair a Task Force on National Health Care Reform. In 2013, Bill appointed his daughter Chelsea a member of the governing board of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative.
In 2017, President Donald Trump was accused of nepotism after appointing both his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka (married to Kushner) into advisory roles to the president. Neither Jared nor Ivanka take a salary, and "advisor" is not an official tax-paid government employee position. In 2020, President Trump appointed his son Eric Trump's brother-in-law, Kyle Yunaska, to the position of NASA Deputy Chief of Staff. Yunaska holds a 2009 MBA and a 2007 Bachelor of Science in Management and Physics, both from East Carolina University. Yunaska is a paid government employee.
Nepotism is known to be practiced by President of the Venezuela National Assembly, Cilia Flores. Nine positions in the National Assembly were filled by Flores' family members, including a mother-in-law, aunt, 3 siblings, a cousin and her mother, and 2 nephews.
The late Robert Mugabe was reported to be preparing his wife Grace Mugabe to be the next president of Zimbabwe while he was president. Vice President Joice Mujuru was previously considered to be the favored successor to Mugabe.
Types of partiality
Nepotism refers to partiality to family whereas cronyism refers to partiality to an associate or friend. Favoritism, the broadest of the terms, refers to partiality based upon being part of a favored group, rather than job performance.
- Political families
- Bastard feudalism
- Blat (term)
- Collective narcissism
- Conjugal dictatorship
- Family dictatorship
- Ingroup bias
- Hereditary monarchy
- Hereditary politicians
- List of cardinal-nephews
- Merit system
- Professional courtesy
- Spoils system
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