Extant literature has shown the importance of routinized leadership succession for authoritarian resilience. However, the factors leading to orderly power transitions in autocracies are unclear. This article argues that an orderly succession requires relatively peaceful exit of the incumbent. Through a comparison of the power transition trajectories of the post-Stalin USSR and China in the Age of Deng Xiaoping, this article proposes three conditions that facilitate the voluntary retirement of dictators, including their strong political will to institutionalize successions, adequate capacity to initiate the plan, and reliable retirement packages. Meeting all three conditions, leadership succession in China has resulted in the emergence of the “modern regency” in which the elder leaders can retire relatively voluntarily and continuously influence the politics of a regime after their retirement, especially by proactively supervising future leadership successions. In contrast, without meeting the initial requirements for a dictator’s exit, the case of leadership succession in the USSR is characterized as parallel succession, which includes neither a credible plan on routinization of elite politics nor simultaneous coexistence of the elder leaders and the younger cohort as in the case of China. Moreover, during similar regime crises in the late 1980s, the arrangement of the modern regency helped prolong the authoritarian regime in China, while the USSR collapsed without this safeguard.

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