Democracy in Peril

In Democratically-elected governments, a tumultuous transition of power is not without precedent.

Evo Morales – Bolivia

When indigenous and working-class Bolivians elected Evo Morales to the Bolivian presidency in 2006, the cocoa-farmer-turned-politician promised equity and transparency. However, the Morales administration would be marred by corruption, public outrage, and accusations of increasingly authoritarian governance—his first decade in power would see him replace everyone from public broadcasters to federal judgeships with ardent followers in an attempt to secure his stranglehold on Bolivian democracy. 

In 2016, Morales moved to abolish the two-presidential-term limit that barred him from a 2019 re-election campaign. After Bolivians shot down the proposal in a narrowly-decided national referendum, Morales turned to the Bolivian judiciary—an establishment awash with his political allies—and in November 2017, the nation’s Constitutional Court cleared Morales to run in 2019. Morales’ efforts to prolong his administration, however, succeeded for just weeks—in November 2019, scarcely one month after Morales’ fraud-ridden re-election, Bolivian security forces drove the disgraced president into exile.

Nicolas Maduro – Venezuela

On December 7, 2020, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro celebrated a series of sweeping 2020 congressional election victories. Yet, Maduro’s political dominance—and his very claim to the presidency—relies upon an ongoing campaign of political deception and violent censorship. Maduro’s 2018 re-election campaign saw the incumbent president run on promises of a “new economy.” Following a contested 2018 election, Maduro’s administration only drew renewed criticism as the incensed leader censored and murdered political opponents and civilian protestors who questioned his presidency’s legitimacy. In January 2019, as a peaceful transition of power became increasingly unlikely, opposition party leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the acting Venezuelan president in open defiance of Maduro’s regime. Despite international support from the likes of the United States, Guaidó’s subsequent attempts to depose Maduro have remained unsuccessful; Venezuela remains embroiled in political controversy.

Partido Revolucionario institutional, PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party – Mexico

The 1988 Mexican presidential elections pitted Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the National Democratic Front against Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Cárdenas, who enjoyed widespread support from socialist sympathizers and Mexicans dissatisfied with PRI policies, sought to unseat the PRI’s decades-long dominance of the democratic Mexican government. On election eve, the PRI abruptly halted ballot counting and attributed subsequent delays in election results to computer system failures. Salinas was declared the eventual winner after official results conferred 50.8% of the popular vote to the PRI candidate, while Cárdenas received a meager 32%. Gortari would go on to serve a six-year presidential term. 

In 2004, Miguel de la Madrid, PRI presidential incumbent during the 1988 elections, confessed that his administration falsified 1988 election results after internal projections of a Cárdenas victory, quashing an imminent transition of power and prolonging the PRI regime.

By Frank Zhou