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
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
Dates in parentheses denote the period of rule.
- Rome: Augustus (27 BCE to 14 CE) succeeded by his adopted son Tiberius, succeeded by his adopted son Caligula, succeeded by his uncle Claudius, succeeded by his adopted son Nero. The office of the Roman Emperor, although it began as a family dictatorship as defined above - that is, no general law determined succession, but solely the amassed power of the members of the family in question - became increasingly monarchical over time, especially once it was transferred between dynasties. By the time of Constantine, the system had been effectively recognized as a hereditary monarchy, and the Empire's successor/continuing state, the Byzantine Empire, was explicitly monarchical (as evidenced by its motto, King of Kings Ruling Over Rulers).
- 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)
- 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)
- 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 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.
- Haiti: François Duvalier (President, 1957–1971); succeeded by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971–1986).
- Iraq: Abdul Salam Arif (President, 1963–1966); succeeded by his brother Abdul Rahman Arif (1966–1968).
- Togo: Gnassingbé Eyadéma (President, 1967–2005); succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbé (2005–present). Under international pressure, Faure had to resign on February 25, 2005, but was re-elected in April 2005.
- Gabon: Omar Bongo (President, 1967–2009) died in June 2009. His son Ali Bongo Ondimba succeeded him after winning a disputed election in August 2009.
- 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.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: Laurent-Désiré Kabila (President, 1997–2001); succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila (2001–present). Joseph Kabila was democratically elected in October 2006.
- Cuba: Fidel Castro (1959–2008), succeeded by his brother Raúl Castro (2008–present).
- Azerbaijan: Heydar Aliyev (President, 1993–2003); succeeded by his son Ilham Aliyev (2003–present).
- Republic of China: 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)
- Dagestan: Magomedali Magomedov (1983–2006) indirectly succeeded by his son Magomedsalam Magomedov (2010–2013)
Unsuccessful transitions of power
- 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.
- Philippines: Ferdinand Marcos intended his wife Imelda to be his successor but was ousted through the People Power Revolution.
- 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.
- Yemen: In 2004, Ali Abdullah Saleh (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, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi dissolved the Republican Guard, effectively removing Ahmed Saleh from any meaningful power.
- Azerbaijan: The 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.
- Equatorial Guinea: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power from his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema. It is rumored that the his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is his favorite to succeed him. However, it is suspected that a power struggle between the younger Teodoro and his uncle Armengol Ondo Nguema might occur after the president's death.
- Kazakhstan: Analysts believe long-time president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been preparing his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to succeed him. Recently however, relations between the two have deteriorated because of criticism she sometimes expresses of her father's government.
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