The Morning After: Cabinet Instability and the Purging of Ministers after Failed Coup Attempts in Autocracies
69 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2020 Last revised: 24 May 2021
Date Written: October 1, 2020
Autocrats rely on inner-circle elites to stay in power. It is commonly assumed that dictators will purge these elites if they unsuccessfully try to unseat the dictator in a coup. However, this assumption has never been tested in a global analysis. Furthermore, little is known about whom dictators target in such purges. In this paper, we focus on the highest levels of the regime, namely cabinet members. Using a new dataset, our analysis covers over 23,000 cabinet members in 115 autocracies from 1967 to 2016. We theorize and demonstrate that failed coups induce autocrats to increasingly purge their cabinets, and that they do so selectively, by targeting higher-ranking cabinet members and those who hold strategic positions, while keeping more loyal and veteran ministers in post. This article presents the most detailed individual-level evidence to date on purges and offers key insights into power-sharing mechanisms in autocracies in times of crisis.
Keywords: cabinets, purges, dictatorship, coup attempts, dictator-elite relations, ministers
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