Power Sharing and Leadership Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes


  • I would like to thank three anonymous referees, Carles Boix, Paul Cantor, Alexandre Debs, Paul Diehl, Brian Gaines, Jennifer Gandhi, Burak Kadercan, Jim Kuklinski, Roger Myerson, Victor Shih, Duncan Snidal, Bonnie Weir, the participants at workshops at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the APSA, ISA, and MPSA conferences for helpful comments, Hein Goemans for sharing his data that were used in an earlier version of this article, and Seden Akcinaroglu for research assistance.

Milan W. Svolik is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 361 Lincoln Hall, 702 South Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801 (msvolik@illinois.edu. Web: https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/msvolik/www/research.html).


I examine a fundamental problem of politics in authoritarian regimes: the dictator and the ruling coalition must share power and govern in an environment where political influence must be backed by a credible threat of violence. I develop a model of authoritarian politics in which power sharing is complicated by this conflict of interest: by exploiting his position, the dictator may acquire more power at the expense of the ruling coalition, which may attempt to deter such opportunism by threatening to stage a coup. Two power-sharing regimes, contested and established dictatorships, may emerge as a result of strategic behavior by the dictator and the ruling coalition. This theory accounts for the large variation in the duration of dictators' tenures and the concentration of power in dictatorships over time, and it contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of power sharing and accountability in authoritarian regimes.