When we think about dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, we tend to think of extremes. Places like North Korea, with brutal, absolutist rulers vanquishing their opponents with prejudice and limitless power.
But that’s really not the reality for most autocratic countries, in fact, there are usually a series of executive constraints, rules, procedures, and structures even in the most non-democratic countries which shape and limit what the leader can do, and how stable transitions of power take place.
That’s the focus of attention in Anne Meng’s terrific new book, “Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes,” in which she sets out to study these institutions, exploring how these rules get created in dictatorships, and how key appointments are made.
Meng argues that the first couple of years in a given autocratic regime are instrumental in the creation of executive constraints, especially when weaker leaders come into power and find themselves creating “institutional promises” to maintain intra-elite support.
In particular, Meng and Robert Amsterdam discuss the case of Paul Biya in Cameroon and how he has sought to unwind many institutional constraints as well as how he has attempted to appoint weak elite successors to ensure he is not overthrown.