Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes
By Anne Meng
Cambridge University Press, 2020, 256 pp.
Some authoritarian regimes are personalistic, organized around a single dictator and with few strong formal checks on executive power. Others are institutional: power is embedded in a set of institutions that makes the executive accountable to other top political elites. In this innovative and informative book, Meng asks why some regimes manage to become more institutionalized and how this shift affects their political stability. She defines institutions as political procedures and rules that explicitly limit executive authority and give at least some power to other figures within the regime. Such procedures include term limits, succession rules, and influential offices such as the vice presidency. Meng draws on data from 46 countries in Africa to show that, counterintuitively, authoritarian regimes in which the ruler’s power is constrained by institutions in fact last longer and that those rulers are more likely to die a natural death (rather than at the hands of a political rival). By contrast, the regimes of less constrained dictators rarely survive them, plunging their countries back into instability.