What motivates authoritarian regimes to crack down on corruption? We argue that just as partisan competition in democracies tends to politicize corruption, authoritarian leaders may exploit anticorruption campaigns to target rivals’ power networks during internal power struggles for consolidating their power base. We apply this theoretical framework to provincial leadership turnover in China and test it using an anticorruption data set. We find that intraelite power competition, captured by the informal power configuration of government incumbents and their predecessors, can increase investigations of corrupt senior officials by up to 20%. The intensity of anticorruption propaganda exhibits a similar pattern. The findings indicate that informal politics can propel strong anticorruption drives in countries without democratically accountable institutions, although these drives tend to be selective, arbitrary, and factionally biased.
- authoritarian politics
- elite competition