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COVID-19 and Executive Personalization in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the MENA Region

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, political leaders reacted by containment measures that, next to combating the spread of the pandemic, also presented a window of opportunity to bolster executives’ personal grasp on power. Personalization of power has been particularly worrying in the Global South where constraints on the chief executives were often already weak prior to the pandemic. This project assesses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the personalization of executive power in 36 countries of the Global South.
DFG, 2021-2024

Research Questions

The project will answer the three following research questions:
(1) What is personalization of executive power; how can we operationalize and identify it empirically across regime types?
(2) What were/are the characteristics of the personalization of executive power before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in the selected countries of the Global South?
(3) What explains the differences and similarities in the personalization of executive power across countries and over these periods, and what role does the COVID-19 pandemic play in that?

Contribution to International Research

By answering these questions, the project contributes to three bodies of academic scholarship: the burgeoning literature on democratic backsliding and autocratization; the emerging research that describes and explains the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on political developments across the world; and the diverse contributions from area studies that have long tracked the patterns and processes of the personalization of executive power in individual countries. In addition to the scholarly contribution, the project’s results will be crucially relevant for decision-makers, civil society actors, and citizens concerned about the recent trend of executive personalization and autocratization.

Research Design and Methods

This project pursues four research objectives. First, we develop a concept of the personalization of executive power that is applicable across regime types and different world regions. Second, we construct a theory of the personalization of executive power during the COVID-19 pandemic. Third, we collect empirical data on the personalization of executive power before and during the COVID-19 pandemic across 36 systematically selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA region) and create the Personalization of Executive Power (PEXPower) dataset. Fourth, we draw on the PEXPower dataset and accompanying qualitative data to describe the impact of executive personalization before and during the COVID-19 pandemic across three policy areas in each country: public health, internal security, and economic policy. We identify differences and similarities across and within countries in our sample through a systematic, multi-method research design that integrates qualitative and quantitative methods.