By refusing defeat, Trump gives substance to autocrats

The United States has long presented itself as a staunch defender of democracy around the world, not hesitating to pressure defeated leaders at the ballot box to step down peacefully.

• Read also: The dark comedy of a president who desperately clings to power

But US President Donald Trump is giving birth to a new model: he refuses to acknowledge his own defeat, cries out without proof of fraud and seeks in the courts to deprive Joe Biden of his victory in the November 3 ballot.

Politicians and experts interviewed by AFP in several countries therefore fear that in fragile democracies, especially in Africa, strong men will take the Republican billionaire as an example to justify clinging to power.

“Donald Trump’s refusal to recognize his defeat reinforces the point of view of our heads of state in Africa that the elections should be organized in such a way as not to be lost,” said Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, secretary general of the Party for Libertés et le Développement (PLD), a Chadian opposition party.

Russian Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and opponent of President Vladimir Putin, fears Mr. Trump’s attacks on the democratic process will lead to “a lot of similar attacks in future elections, in the United States or elsewhere”.

“Democracy discredited, Putin’s dream,” he wrote on Twitter.

Change the speech

Thomas Carothers, of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace in Washington, notes that Russia, China or Egypt are far from having awaited the advice of Donald Trump on the matter.

But the effects could be more palpable in still unstable democracies whose leaders see the American president claim victory and enjoy the support of part of the population, while his Democratic opponent has won nearly six million more votes.

“They see the power of this approach; even a society as educated and sophisticated in a way as the United States can fall victim to this kind of big lie, ”says Carothers.

He draws a parallel with the fake news, a term dear to Mr. Trump and used around the world by governments who want to muzzle the media.

According to the expert, Donald Trump could thus serve as a model in India, the largest democracy in the world, where civil society leaders regularly complain of being harassed by the administration of nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Or Mexico, where left-wing populist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shouted fraud in two lost elections and who remains one of the few, along with Mr. Putin, not to congratulate Joe Biden.

More indirectly, European right-wing leaders, as in Hungary and Poland, could also draw inspiration from the White House.

Since the presidential election, American diplomacy has congratulated the winners of several elections, such as in Moldova where pro-Russian President Igor Dodon quickly conceded defeat.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was asked by a reporter if Mr. Trump was not undermining American support for democracy, was annoyed by the “ridiculous” question, saying that the recount of votes in several American states was a “legal process” that “takes time”.

Opposite effect?

The US elections have seen several controversies, especially in 2000 when George W. Bush won with 537 votes in advance in Florida, which gave him the victory.

And in 1960, Republicans denounced irregularities in John F. Kennedy’s victory, but his opponent Richard Nixon had not asked for verification. He later wrote that he could “not think of a worse example for foreign countries” than to allege that the White House “could be stolen from the ballot box.”

Piers Pigou, specialist in sub-Saharan Africa for the International Crisis Group, points out that American democracy “is not considered the best model” but that Mr. Trump’s attitude could have consequences in countries not having no clear process for the transfer of power.

For other observers, the American example could also send the opposite message: despite all the power at his disposal, Mr. Trump is expected to leave his post on January 20.

“These are the institutions that are the strength of democracies,” said Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, member of the “Call to action”, a civil society movement in Gabon where the Bongo family has held the presidency for more than 50 years.

“Unlike African states, American institutions will know how to impose the people’s vote on Trump’s folly,” adds this activist from the opposition National Union party.

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