A question for the readers: Has there ever been an authoritarian system in which the president lost a reelection bid, and in which the system remained authoritarian?
Obviously, I am thinking here of Iran, which has an unusual mix of authoritarianism and competitive elections–restricted, but competitive.
The context is that there have been, for the last few years, ample signs that much of the clerical establishment that actually rules Iran would like to clip the wings of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and perhaps be rid of him. But if his intra-regime opponents could not somehow get him to step aside (and I have no idea if there was ever any such organized effort), it would be hard to imagine most of the clerics not rallying behind the incumbent.
For an authoritarian system to allow an election defeat of its incumbent head of government presumably would simply be too risky.
Usually, authoritarian systems that have even minimally competitive elections never have significant intra-regime challengers in those elections (unless the regime is teetering, that is), either because the head of the government is a single-term position (as in the formerly authoritarian Mexican system) or the ruling coalition is sufficiently coordinated around a leader who serves multiple terms.
I have speculated previously about whether the Iranian regime was becoming more “institutionalized” over time, or not, and what it might mean if it were.* However, at this time, I still have more questions than answers…
* In addition to the linked item, there were two follow-ups, themselves linked at the bottom of the first one.