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A 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 a 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 an absolute monarchy. In the latter, the transition of power within a family is required by general law, 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 authoritative 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.

  • North Koreamarker: Kim Il-sung (1948-1994), succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il (1994- ). Kim Jong-il didn't officially take office until 1997, when his father was posthumously given the position of Eternal President.

Indirect successions

Unsuccessful transitions of power

  • Dominican Republicmarker: 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.

  • Zairemarker: Mobutu Sese Seko's heir apparent was his son Nyiwa, who held several cabinet posts and was being groomed to succeed his father; however, this succession never came to fruition, as not only was Nyiwa killed by AIDS in 1994, but Mobutu himself was later overthrown (in 1997) by Laurent Kabila

Potential successions

  • Egyptmarker: Popular and scholarly opinion holds that Gamal Mubarak is being groomed to succeed his father Hosni to the presidency upon the elder Mubarak's death; this has not yet come to pass. The younger Mubarak is currently Chair of the Policy Planning Committee of the ruling National Democratic Party, giving him substantial power as Egypt is a de facto single-party state. Both the Egyptian government and the Mubarak family deny plans of an inherited transfer of power.


  1. Vladimir Tismăneanu, Stalinism pentru eternitate, Polirom, Iaşi, 2005 ISBN 973-681-899-3 p.295
  3. RDC : La mort prématurée de Manda Mobutu met un point final à l'histoire du "Zaïre" - Burkina

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