Strategic logic of elite purges in dictatorships

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Why do some leaders eliminate rivals from authoritarian regimes and therefore diminish elites' capabilities to remove them via coups, while others do not? By examining both dictators' incentives and opportunities to weaken regime elites, I show that dictators are more likely to eliminate rivals when elites' capabilities to oust dictators via coup is temporarily low. Thus, somewhat paradoxically, my theory predicts that dictators are more likely to weaken elites' capabilities as the threat of coup decreases rather than when coup risk is high. Furthermore, I argue that successful coups that put new dictators in power temporarily diminish elites' capabilities to remove dictators and, thus, provide a window of opportunity for the dictators to take steps to consolidate power. Empirical results using a new dataset on purges of militaries from 1969 to 2003 provide strong evidence for my hypotheses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1768-1801
Number of pages34
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number13
Early online date2 Feb 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Feb 2017


  • coup
  • authoritarian regime
  • dictatorship
  • elite purge

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