This content was published on 22 November 2020 – 13:27
The United States has long been a standard-bearer for democracy around the world, pushing persistently, though not always consistently, for those leaders who lose elections to leave power.
President Donald Trump is now setting a new model: He refuses to budge, makes unsubstantiated claims of fraud, and seeks intervention from the courts and political allies in hopes of reversing his defeat to Joe Biden.
Political figures and experts from various countries fear that such a stance will be embraced with enthusiasm in fragile democracies, especially in Africa, allowing strong men to point to the most powerful nation in the world to justify their intention to cling to power.
“Donald Trump’s refusal to concede victory reinforces the view of our leaders in Africa that the elections must be conducted in such a way that they do not lose,” said Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, secretary general of the opposition Party for Freedom and Development in Chad. .
Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, called Trump’s stance “sweet music for autocratic rulers.”
“It’s tragic. We are used to that in Africa, but when it happens in the United States, it surprises us because it happens in a century-old democracy,” he lamented.
“It is a dirty lesson that our leaders will take advantage of and cite (…) when they do not want to accept defeat,” he added.
Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess legend and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, estimated that Trump’s attack on the democratic process will result in “many similar attacks in future elections, in the United States and elsewhere.”
“The discrediting of democracy, Putin’s dream,” he said on Twitter.
– Tangible effects –
Thomas Carothers, an expert on democracy promotion, pointed out that nations like Russia, China and Egypt hardly needed any advice from Trump on how to oppose competitive elections.
But he estimated that the effect would be most tangible in troubled democracies, whose leaders see how Trump can blatantly claim victory and find some support, despite Biden getting nearly six million more votes and outscoring him 306-232 in the College. Electoral, which ultimately is the one who votes for the president.
“They see the power of that approach, that even a society as educated and sophisticated in some respects as the United States can be the victim of that kind of big lie,” said Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Studies in Washington.
He also drew a parallel with Trump’s denunciations of “fake news,” a term now used around the world by governments that want to muzzle the media.
Nations where Trump’s attitude could serve as a model include India, the world’s largest democracy that has long had strong elections but where right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi has targeted civil society, Carothers noted. .
He also indicated that it could have an effect in Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing populist, claimed fraud in his two previous attempts to reach the prime minister and is also one of the few world leaders, along with Putin, who he hasn’t complimented Biden.
Since the Nov. 3 elections, the State Department has congratulated the winners of several elections in other countries, including Moldova, whose Russian-backed president quickly conceded victory.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was asked at a press conference whether Trump was hampering democratic efforts, called the question “ridiculous” and said the United States takes time to examine all elections to see if they “reflect the will of the people. “
– Does the system work? –
The US elections have often been difficult, most notably in 2000 when the Supreme Court awarded Republican George W. Bush the winner by 537 votes in Florida as the deadlines for a recount expired, to the detriment of Democrat Al Gore.
In 1960, Republicans alleged wrongdoing in John F. Kennedy’s victory, but their candidate Richard Nixon did not advocate a recount. Nixon later wrote that he could “think of no worse example for nations abroad” than the suggestion that the White House “could be robbed at the polls.”
Piers Pigou, a southern Africa expert at the International Crisis Group, estimated Trump’s stance could have a ripple effect in a region where many countries do not have clear procedures for the transition of power.
However, many observers said it could send the opposite message: that despite having all the power at his disposal, Trump is still expected to leave office on January 20.
“The strength of democracy is its institutions,” said Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, a member of the opposition Gabon National Union, where a family has ruled for half a century.
“Unlike the African countries, the institutions of the United States will know how to impose the will of the American people over the madness of Trump.”
burs-sct / dw / yow