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`Few Modern Dictators Have Handed Power to Sons`

Posted June. 06, 2009 08:21,   


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has made official his intent to continue his country’s hereditary power succession by naming his youngest son Jong Un as heir apparent.

Why are dictators tempted to pass on their power to their offspring, and what does a successful power transfer require?

Park Hyeong-joong, chief of inter-Korean cooperation at Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, explored this topic in his post “The Dilemma of Power Transfer and Hereditary Succession” uploaded on the institute’s homepage yesterday.

“Hereditary power transfer from father to son seeks to secure the vested interests of the power elite,” he said.

Such a transfer is in the interests of both a dictator and the elite, he said, adding, “If one of the elite is named successor, the power distribution among the elite changes. This will lead to power struggles, either resulting in the collapse of one force or plunging the regime itself into chaos. A hereditary succession of power, however, guarantees a safe power transfer without changes in the status and privilege of the elite.”

To support his argument, Park cited American political scientist Jason Brownlee‘s 2007 thesis, which analyzed 258 authoritarian governments that held power for more than three years from 1945 to 2006.

Of the 258 dictators, 23 attempted to hand down power to their sons but only nine who got support from elite groups succeeded. Those who achieved hereditary succession of power in Asia include Chiang Kai-shek (1949-75) and Chiang Ching-kuo (1975-88) in Taiwan; Kim Il Sung (1948-94) and Kim Jong Il (1994-present) in North Korea; and Lee Kuan Yew (1956-2004) and Lee Hsien Loong (2004-present) in Singapore.