A dictator is a political leader who possesses absolute power. A dictatorship is a state ruled by one dictator or by a small clique. The word originated as the title of a Roman dictator elected by the Roman Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency (see Roman dictator and justitium).
Like the term tyrant, and to a lesser degree autocrat, dictator came to be used almost exclusively as a non-titular term for oppressive rule. In modern usage the term dictator is generally used to describe a leader who holds or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power. Dictatorships are often characterised by some of the following: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents; not abiding by the procedures of the rule of law, and the existence of a cult of personality centered on the leader. Dictatorships are often one-party or dominant-party states.
A wide variety of leaders coming to power in different kinds of regimes, such as one-party states, dominant-party states, and civilian governments under a personal rule, have been described as dictators.