MOSCOW — When the strongman ruler of Belarus declared an implausible landslide victory in an election in August, and had himself sworn in for a sixth time period as president, the United States and different Western nations denounced what they stated was brazen defiance of the voters’ will.
President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s victory, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated final month, was “fraud.” Mr. Pompeo added: “We’ve opposed the fact that he’s now inaugurated himself. We know what the people of Belarus want. They want something different.”
Just a month on, Mr. Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, is now borrowing from Mr. Lukashenko’s playbook, becoming a member of a membership of truculent leaders who, no matter what voters resolve, declare themselves the winners of elections.
That membership counts as its members much more dictators, tyrants and potentates than leaders of what was once generally known as the “free world” — nations that, led by Washington, have for many years lectured others on the necessity to maintain elections and respect the consequence.
The parallel shouldn’t be actual. Mr. Trump participated in a free and truthful democratic election. Most autocrats defy voters earlier than they even vote, excluding actual rivals from the poll and swamping the airwaves with one-sided protection.
But once they do maintain genuinely aggressive votes and the consequence goes towards them, they typically ignore the consequence, denouncing it because the work of traitors, criminals and overseas saboteurs, and subsequently invalid. By refusing to simply accept the outcomes of final week’s election and dealing to delegitimize the vote, Mr. Trump is following an identical technique.
There is little indication that Mr. Trump can overcome the legal guidelines and establishments that guarantee the decision of American voters will carry the day. The nation has a free press, a robust and unbiased judiciary, election officers devoted to an sincere counting of the votes and a robust political opposition, none of which exists in Belarus or Russia.
Still, the United States has by no means earlier than needed to drive an incumbent to concede a good defeat on the polls. And merely by elevating the likelihood that he must be compelled out of workplace, Mr. Trump has shattered the bedrock democratic custom of a seamless transition.
The harm already executed by Mr. Trump’s obduracy may very well be lasting. Ivan Krastev, an knowledgeable on East and Central Europe on the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, stated Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede would “create a new model” for like-minded populists in Europe and elsewhere.
“When Trump won in 2016 the lesson was that they could trust democracy,” he stated. “Now, they won’t trust democracy, and will do everything and anything to stay in power.” In what he referred to as “the Lukashenko scenario,” leaders will nonetheless wish to maintain elections however “never lose.” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has been doing that for twenty years.
Among the anti-democratic ways Mr. Trump has adopted are some that have been generally employed by leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia — refusing to concede defeat and hurling unfounded accusations of electoral fraud. The ways additionally embrace undermining confidence in democratic establishments and the courts, attacking the press and vilifying opponents.
Like Mr. Trump, these leaders feared that accepting defeat would expose them to prosecution as soon as they left workplace. Mr. Trump doesn’t have to fret about being charged with struggle crimes and genocide, as Mr. Milosevic was, however he does face a tangle of authorized issues.
Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia underneath President Barack Obama and a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, described the president’s “refusal to accept the results of the election” as “his parting gift to autocrats around the world.”
An early draft of the playbook utilized by leaders who by no means admit defeat was written in 1946 by the Socialist Unity Party, a communist outfit within the then Soviet-controlled japanese lands of Germany. Trounced within the first German election after World War II, the social gathering, generally known as the SED, greeted its defeat with a daring headline in its newspaper — “Great Victory for SED!” — and took over ruling East Germany for the following 45 years.
It by no means risked a aggressive election once more.
When the Moscow-installed chief of Hungary, Matyas Rakosi, watched because the Communist Party misplaced elections in 1945, he turned “pale as a corpse, slumped into his chair, without saying a word,” in response to a celebration official who was current and later described what occurred to Hungarian historians. Within a yr most of his opponents have been useless, in jail or terrified into silence — and he was working the nation.
Nobody expects Mr. Trump to comply with that grotesque instance. But by insisting he received a vote that outcomes present he clearly misplaced, he has damaged sharply with the norms of nations that view themselves as mature democracies.
“Trump’s behavior is without precedent among leaders in Western democracies,” stated Serhii Plokhy, a Harvard historian who has studied former communist states like Ukraine. “Even in military dictatorships, the dictators more often than not honor the results of elections and they retire if they lose them.”
That the United States has fallen in with such dangerous firm has stirred dismay and mockery amongst not solely Mr. Trump’s political foes but in addition residents of nations lengthy accustomed to having leaders who overstay their welcome.
After a long time of “preaching democracy to everyone else,” stated Patrick Gathara, a cartoonist and political commentator in Kenya, the United States has been uncovered as “drinking wine and preaching water.”
In November 2010, President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast refused to simply accept his loss in an election, suppressing protests with dwell ammunition, killing dozens and dragging the nation into a quick civil struggle during which over 3,000 folks died.
Like Mr. Trump, he freely used authorities equipment to problem the election consequence, insisting he had not been defeated. The disaster stretched out over virtually 5 months and introduced Ivory Coast to its knees economically.
With French army assist, the president-elect, Alassane Ouattara, lastly assumed energy as Mr. Gbagbo — whose marketing campaign slogan had been “We win or we win” — was dragged out of his bunker in Abidjan, the capital.
This yr, Mr. Ouattara modified the structure to permit him to run for a 3rd time period, and declared final week that he received in a landslide.
Even veteran dictators, nonetheless, generally concede defeat, notably if they will engineer a succession that guarantees to ensure their private and monetary safety.
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who seized energy in 1973 in a army coup in Chile, accepted defeat in a 1988 constitutional referendum that will have allowed him to remain in workplace, and relinquished the presidency in 1990 after an opponent received a presidential vote.
But he remained commander in chief and was made a senator-for-life immune from prosecution. (Still, he was arrested in 1998 in Britain after an extradition request by a Spanish decide investigating his alleged crimes whereas president.)
A 2018 examine, primarily based on elections all over the world since 1950, discovered that solely 12 % of dictators who undergo elections and lose on the polls go away workplace peacefully. But army dictators, the examine discovered, are usually extra keen to concede defeat as a result of they will return to the barracks and keep away from getting arrested or killed.
“It is rare for dictators to step down, but when they do it is because, like Pinochet, they have a feasible alternative, such as rejoining the military, that allows them to avoid accountability for human rights abuses,” the examine, by One Earth Future, a analysis group, stated.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to simply accept the results of the election has resonated with explicit drive in Latin America.
Mr. Trump used virtually each software in his overseas coverage arsenal towards Venezuela’s president, Mr. Maduro, who fraudulently manufactured a victory in a May 2018 election regardless of his deep unpopularity and a calamitous financial disaster.
The vote was denounced by most Western and Latin American nations as neither free nor truthful, and instantly introduced contemporary American sanctions. To punish Mr. Maduro, Mr. Trump banned transactions in Venezuelan bonds, and imposed crippling sanctions on Venezuelan oil.
And in January 2019, Mr. Trump acknowledged Venezuela’s chief opposition chief and congressional speaker, Juan Guaidó, because the nation’s reputable chief, one other main blow to Mr. Maduro. Dozens of America’s European and Latin American allies adopted go well with inside days.
Mr. Trump condemned Mr. Maduro’s “usurpation of power” and stated that every one choices, together with army intervention, have been on the desk to take away Mr. Maduro from workplace and set up Mr. Guaidó to the presidency.
Just in September, the Trump administration imposed extra sanctions towards what it referred to as the “Maduro regime’s attempts to corrupt democratic elections in Venezuela.”
Now, Mr. Trump can also be refusing to simply accept the election outcomes.
Temir Porras, a former minister within the Venezuelan authorities who has since left Mr. Maduro’s social gathering, stated Mr. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the U.S. vote “delegitimizes” America’s function as a global arbiter of democracy.
“The argument of ‘moral superiority’ that the United States had,” he stated, “without a doubt is affected by Trump’s behavior.”
Geoff Ramsey, the Venezuela director for the Washington Office on Latin America, a Washington-based analysis group, stated: “How does the U.S. government expect to call for free and fair elections in Venezuela when our own president won’t recognize the results of a clean electoral process in our own country? It’s a propaganda gift to Maduro and every other autocrat around the world, and I guarantee they are loving every minute of this.”
Mr. Maduro actually hasn’t missed the chance to brag. “Donald Trump, here we don’t lose elections because we are the truth,” an upbeat Mr. Maduro stated in a nationwide handle on Tuesday.
Reporting was contributed by Adam Nossiter from Paris; Julie Turkewitz from Bogotá, Colombia; Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela; Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya; and Monica Mark from Johannesburg.