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The New Dictators

Why Personalism Rules

A participant wears a sticker with the word "Obey!" during an opposition protest on Revolution square in central Moscow February 26, 2012. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

Strongmen are seemingly everywhere. Russian President Vladimir Putin is omnipresent; the media has obsessed over everything from his latest actions in Syria and Ukraine to his sudden and recurring reshuffling of his inner circle in the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political purge following a failed military coup has won sustained attention. And even in China, a system that has long emphasized collective leadership, the media have dubbed President Xi Jinping the “Chairman of Everything,” reflecting his accumulation of more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

It is easy to get swept up in the colorful details of each case. But stepping back, it is clear that these examples paint a much more worrisome picture—highly personalized regimes are coming to the forefront of political systems across the globe. Beyond the best-known examples, leaders everywhere from Bangladesh to Ecuador, Hungary, and Poland seem to be

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