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 US 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 truth that he’s now inaugurated himself. We all know what the folks of Belarus need. They need one thing completely different.”
Only 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 determine, 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 end result.
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.
However once they do maintain genuinely aggressive votes and the end result goes in opposition to them, they typically ignore the end result, denouncing it because the work of traitors, criminals and overseas saboteurs, and subsequently invalid. By refusing to just accept the outcomes of final week’s election and dealing to delegitimize the vote, Mr. Trump is following the same technique.
There may be 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 trustworthy counting of the votes and a robust political opposition, none of which exists in Belarus or Russia.
Nonetheless, the US has by no means earlier than needed to pressure an incumbent to concede a good defeat on the polls. And merely by elevating the likelihood that he must be pressured out of workplace, Mr. Trump has shattered the bedrock democratic custom of a seamless transition.
The injury already completed by Mr. Trump’s obduracy might 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 brand new mannequin” for like-minded populists in Europe and elsewhere.
“When Trump received in 2016 the lesson was that they may belief democracy,” he stated. “Now, they received’t belief democracy, and can do every thing and something to remain in energy.” In what he referred to as “the Lukashenko state of affairs,” leaders will nonetheless wish to maintain elections however “by no means lose.” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has been doing that for 20 years.
Among the many anti-democratic techniques 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 techniques additionally embody 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 legal problems.
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 just accept the outcomes of the election” as “his parting present to autocrats all over 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 Occasion, a communist outfit within the then Soviet-controlled jap lands of Germany. Trounced within the first German election after World Warfare II, the celebration, generally known as the SED, greeted its defeat with a daring headline in its newspaper — “Nice Victory for SED!” — and took over ruling East Germany for the subsequent 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 Occasion misplaced elections in 1945, he turned “pale as a corpse, slumped into his chair, with out saying a phrase,” in accordance with a celebration official who was current and later described what occurred to Hungarian historians. Inside a yr most of his opponents have been useless, in jail or terrified into silence — and he was operating the nation.
No one expects Mr. Trump to comply with that ugly instance. However by insisting he received a vote that outcomes show he clearly lost, he has damaged sharply with the norms of nations that view themselves as mature democracies.
“Trump’s conduct is with out precedent amongst leaders in Western democracies,” stated Serhii Plokhy, a Harvard historian who has studied former communist states like Ukraine. “Even in navy dictatorships, the dictators most of the time honor the outcomes of elections they usually retire in the event that they lose them.”
That the US 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 many years of “preaching democracy to everybody else,” stated Patrick Gathara, a cartoonist and political commentator in Kenya, the US has been uncovered as “consuming wine and preaching water.”
In November 2010, President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast refused to just accept his loss in an election, suppressing protests with stay ammunition, killing dozens and dragging the nation into a quick civil struggle by which over 3,000 folks died.
Like Mr. Trump, he freely used authorities equipment to problem the election end result, insisting he had not been defeated. The disaster stretched out over nearly 5 months and introduced Ivory Coast to its knees economically.
With French navy 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 last week that he won in a landslide.
Even veteran dictators, nonetheless, generally concede defeat, significantly if they’ll engineer a succession that guarantees to ensure their private and monetary safety.
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who seized energy in 1973 in a navy coup in Chile, accepted defeat in a 1988 constitutional referendum that might have allowed him to remain in workplace, and relinquished the presidency in 1990 after an opponent received a presidential vote.
However he remained commander in chief and was made a senator-for-life immune from prosecution. (Nonetheless, he was arrested in 1998 in Britain after an extradition request by a Spanish choose investigating his alleged crimes whereas president.)
A 2018 examine, based mostly 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. However navy dictators, the examine discovered, are usually extra keen to concede defeat as a result of they’ll return to the barracks and keep away from getting arrested or killed.
“It’s uncommon for dictators to step down, however once they do it’s as a result of, like Pinochet, they’ve a possible various, reminiscent of rejoining the navy, that permits them to keep away from accountability for human rights abuses,” the study, by One Earth Future, a analysis group, stated.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to just accept the results of the election has resonated with specific pressure in Latin America.
Mr. Trump used nearly each device in his overseas coverage arsenal in opposition to Venezuela’s president, Mr. Maduro, who fraudulently manufactured a victory in a Could 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 recent 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 legit chief, one other main blow to Mr. Maduro. Dozens of America’s European and Latin American allies adopted swimsuit inside days.
Mr. Trump condemned Mr. Maduro’s “usurpation of energy” and stated that every one choices, together with navy intervention, have been on the desk to take away Mr. Maduro from workplace and set up Mr. Guaidó to the presidency.
Simply in September, the Trump administration imposed further sanctions in opposition to what it referred to as the “Maduro regime’s attempts to corrupt democratic elections in Venezuela.”
Now, Mr. Trump can be refusing to just accept the election outcomes.
Temir Porras, a former minister within the Venezuelan authorities who has since left Mr. Maduro’s celebration, stated Mr. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the U.S. vote “delegitimizes” America’s position as a world arbiter of democracy.
“The argument of ‘ethical superiority’ that the US had,” he stated, “definitely is affected by Trump’s conduct.”
Geoff Ramsey, the Venezuela director for the Washington Workplace on Latin America, a Washington-based analysis group, stated: “How does the U.S. authorities count on to name without cost and truthful elections in Venezuela when our personal president received’t acknowledge the outcomes of a clear electoral course of in our personal nation? It’s a propaganda present to Maduro and each different autocrat all over the world, and I assure they’re loving each minute of this.”
Mr. Maduro definitely hasn’t missed the chance to brag. “Donald Trump, right here we don’t lose elections as a result of we’re the reality,” 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.