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Centre–Province Relations in Personalist Autocracies: Explaining the Emergence and Survival of Powerful Provincial Leaders

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2021

Jakob Tolstrup
Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Emil Souleimanov*
Institute of Political Studies, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
*Corresponding author. Email:


We have limited knowledge of how the insecure environment characteristic of personalist dictatorships affects the behaviour of provincial leaders. In this article, we argue that such provincial leaders face a trade-off: either they can keep a low profile but remain vulnerable to the capriciousness of the ruler (the acquiescent strategy), or they can gamble and try to build a power base of their own as a defence against the whims of the dictator (the power-accruing strategy). Next, we specify three contextual conditions, each of which makes provincial leaders more likely to choose and succeed with a power-accruing strategy, which in turn allows them to rule their province with an iron fist. Finally, empirically, we illustrate our arguments through a number of example cases and an in-depth study of a contemporary, very powerful provincial leader in a personalist authoritarian regime: Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic within Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Government and Opposition Limited

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