The existing literature on elite purges in dictatorships claims that the risk of coups to replace dictators is the main cause of the dictator’s choice of purge strategy. Why then do elite purges occur even in well-established dictatorships with a consistently low risk of coups? This article argues that elite purges in consolidated dictatorships have a different purpose and logic. Dictators, who have consolidated their position, seek to maximize the efficiency of rule by making the elite obedient through purges. For this purpose, dictators carefully select the purge target by considering various factors. To test this theory, the article examines the pattern of elite purges in North Korea based on an original individual-level dataset, which contains the personal background of 367 North Korean elites and their purge records between 1948 and 2019. The result of survival analysis shows that the purge risk of the elite is not significantly associated with their military background but is associated with the characteristics of the institution to which the individual elite member belongs. Other individual factors, including the elite’s educational background, the experience of studying abroad, and the career path, are also significantly related to the probability of being purged. The finding suggests that coup-proofing is not the only purpose of elite purges but that ensuring the leader’s political superiority is another purpose of elite purges in consolidated dictatorships.
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Research Article| September 01 2021
Who Is Purged? Determinants of Elite Purges in North Korea
Communist and Post-Communist Studies (2021) 54 (3): 73–96.
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Taekbin Kim; Who Is Purged? Determinants of Elite Purges in North Korea. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 1 September 2021; 54 (3): 73–96. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/j.postcomstud.2021.54.3.73
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