Putin allegedly won the so-called elections in Russia to once again prove his legitimacy to the world. The most famous dictators did the same and even gained more than 100% of the votes. And how did they finish?

Serhii Pyvovarov
Kateryna Kobernyk
Putin allegedly won the so-called elections in Russia to once again prove his legitimacy to the world. The most famous dictators did the same and even gained more than 100% of the votes. And how did they finish?

Oleksandra Serozhenko / «Бабель»

Putin "won" the Russian presidential election for the fifth time, now with a record 90% of the vote. He is already being welcomed by fellow dictators from all over the world, and the majority of Western countries have finally recognized that there are no real elections in Russia, and their results are fake. Before this, the USA and Europe took a long time, not least because Putin played democracy for just as long and tried not to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the world. For example, he handed over the presidency to Dmitriy Medvedev for a certain time, and in 2020 he made amendments to the Constitution in order to run for the fifth and sixth terms. In fact, this is not Putinʼs know-how, but the usual practice of dictators — to legitimize their power, they use a whole arsenal of semi-legal methods, weapons, violence, and thanks to this, they sometimes gain even more than 100% in the elections. Babel recalls how dictators tried to fool the world and what they ended up with.

Rafael Trujilloʼs Dominican dictatorship "modeled on American democracy", 1930s-1960s

At the beginning of 1930, the commander of the Armed Forces of the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo joined the anti-government rebellion. Having overthrown the government, he organized presidential elections, for which he nominated his candidacy. With the help of the army and the police, Trujillo got rid of his competitors — some he intimidated, others he killed. So in the elections in August 1930, he won with 99% of the votes. Trujillo immediately set about establishing a dictatorship and his own cult. In his honor, the capital was renamed Ciudad Trujillo, streets were named after the dictator, monuments to him were erected throughout the country. Trujillo quickly destroyed the opposition, and persecuted the opponents of his regime even abroad.

Rafael Trujillo takes the presidential oath, 1930.

Wikimedia / «Бабель»

In 1934, Trujillo again won the presidential election unopposed as the only candidate. However, in 1938 he unexpectedly refused to run for a third term "against the will of the people." Trujillo explained that in this way he decided to support the American political tradition, to demonstrate that “democracy” in the Dominican Republic is no worse. However, he put forward a single candidate for the elections — his obedient vice president Jacinto Peinado. The real power, of course, remained in the hands of the dictator.

When Trujillo learned that the then US President Franklin Roosevelt was going to run for a third consecutive term, he himself decided to follow the "example of American democracy". In 1942, he won the election in the absence of other candidates, extended the presidential term to five years and served two terms in a row. In 1952, Trujillo again staged a stunt with a fake president, but this time he put his brother Hector in office. In fact, Trujillo ruled the country until he was shot in May 1961. Then the dictatorʼs motorcade was ambushed by his own generals.

Rafael Trujillo (center) at the presidential inauguration of his brother Hector (left, wearing glasses), 1952.

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Hitlerʼs German persistence, the elections of 1932-1933

In November 1932, the National Socialist Workersʼ Party, or Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler finally won the parliamentary elections with 37.3% of the vote. And although it didnʼt get a majority in the Reichstag, the Nazis were not going to stop. At the end of January 1933, they pressured President Paul von Hindenburg to make Hitler the Reich Chancellor, i.e. Prime Minister.

A polling station in Hanover during the parliamentary elections in November 1932. At the entrance there are agitators with posters of Nazi and other parties.

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Already on the second day after his appointment, Hitler dissolved the parliament and called early elections — for March 5, 1933. During the election campaign, Nazi stormtroopers terrorized and intimidated Hitlerʼs main competitors — Social Democrats and Communists. And six days before the elections the Reichstag building "suddenly" caught fire — the incident was blamed on the German Communist Party. But even under such conditions, the Nazis received only 43.9%. The Social Democrats and Communists managed to gain 18.3% and 12.3%, respectively.

This, of course, did not suit Hitler. Already at the end of March 1933, the Reich Chancellor received extraordinary powers. They allowed him to make any decisions bypassing the parliament, the president and even the constitution. First of all, Hitler dissolved the parliament again, and then banned the activities of the Communist Party of Germany, and later, other parties, except the Nazi Party.

In the November 1933 elections, the Nazis, together with their "non-party guests", won all the seats in the Reichstag. From then on, the Nazi party reigned in the German parliament until the end of World War II.

Counting of votes in the parliamentary elections in Germany under the supervision of the Nazis, November 13, 1933.

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Soviet elections "for export" from Stalin, 1937.

After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, their leader Lenin rejected parliamentary democracy as a "bourgeois reactionary system." Instead, he tried to implement the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat. In theory, according to this scheme, all management functions were entrusted to class representative bodies — councils of workersʼ, peasantsʼ and Red Army deputies at various levels, from local to central. The rest of the social classes fell under complete terror. In fact, the real power belonged to the Bolshevik elite and the party nomenclature, and anyone could fall under repression, regardless of class affiliation.

In the 1930s, it became clear to the Kremlin leadership, led by Stalin, that such a multi-level system would not take root among European workers. Even in Asia, traditional parliamentarism with universal suffrage has become more popular. From the "dictatorship of the proletariat" the communists took only the practice of class terror.

Joseph Stalin (left) and Kliment Voroshilov during the Congress of Soviets in Moscow after the vote for the new constitution of the USSR, December 5, 1936.

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In December 1936, the USSR adopted a new, "Stalinist" constitution. It proclaimed a bunch of freedoms — of conscience, speech, press, assembly, etc. However, all of these freedoms remained on paper. But most importantly, the structure of power was changing. Now the main state body was the parliament — the Supreme Council of the USSR. On December 12, 1937, "the worldʼs most democratic parliamentary elections on an alternative basis" were planned. Even Comrade Stalin himself ran as a "simple candidate" from the Stalin District of Moscow.

In fact, every candidate, member of the election commission and agitator underwent a thorough check by party bodies and special services. Throughout 1937, as part of the "election campaign", the Kremlin staged another wave of repression. The most recent mass arrests were carried out by punitive Soviet special services literally on the eve of the voting. The next day, about 98% of voters elected 870 communists and 273 non-party members to the Supreme Council of the USSR. Such a scheme operated in the Soviet Union until the end of the 1980s.

After World War II, Stalin exported an "advanced democratic electoral system" to Soviet-occupied Europe. Thus, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and later East Germany turned into social camp countries with puppet communist regimes.

Stalin votes in the parliamentary elections of 1937.

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Portuguese underwriting from Antonio Salazar, 1958 election

From 1910 to 1926, Portugal experienced 17 coup attempts, 158 general strikes, 24 uprisings, eight presidents, three dictators and 44 governments. In 1926, after another coup, the military seized power in the country. They could not single-handedly restore the ruined economy of Portugal. Therefore, in 1928, economist professor Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was invited to the position of Minister of Finance. In a few years, he put the country on its feet and turned into a real savior of the nation.

In 1932, Salazar became prime minister, and in the following year he legalized a new constitution. Under it, the prime minister received almost unlimited power, and the president and parliament performed decorative functions. However, the president had one powerful option left — he could send the prime minister out of office. But for a long time, Salazar was not worried about it. After all, military personnel loyal to him, who usually had no competitors in the elections, became presidents.

Antonio Salazar during a speech, to his right is the then Portuguese president, General Oscar Carmona, 1943.

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The presidential elections of 1958 were to take place according to the same scenario. The pro-regime Navy admiral Américo Tomás was the only candidate. But unexpectedly, he had an opposition competitor — Air Force General Umberto Delgado, with the main pre-election promise to release the prime minister-dictator.

Although Salazar was considered a "mild dictator" compared to his European "colleagues", he held on to power no less. He brought in the secret police, who ensured Tomás won with 76.4%. However, Salazar still decided to play it safe and in 1959 made changes to the constitution — now the president could be elected only by the parliament controlled by the dictator.

During his second term as president, Tomas did exercise his powers and dismissed Salazar after the dictator was bedridden in 1968 after suffering a severe stroke. But Salazar himself never found out about it, he lived in a parallel reality until his death in July 1970. Ministers gathered in his hospital room to report on "the state of affairs in the country and in the world." He was brought documents to sign and a newspaper specially printed for him, which contained only "correct" news.

Antonio Salazar votes in the 1958 presidential election.

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One hundred percent winners

Francois Duvalier became president of Haiti in 1957. That same year, he introduced a new, ostensibly democratic constitution that, among other things, limited the presidency to a single six-year term. But already in 1961, Duvalier himself began to violate it. First, he limited the power of the parliament, and then arranged a referendum with the only question — whether he should remain president for another six years. According to official data, Duvalier received 100% of the vote, surprising even the neighboring Latin American dictators of the time.

Francois Duvalier takes the presidential oath, 1957.

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In 1964, Duvalier went even further and, following the results of another "referendum", became "president for life" with 99.9% of the vote. The lack of selection came as a surprise even to the dictator himself, because all the ballots were marked "for" even before the vote. The Duvalier family eventually ruled until 1986, when they were overthrown in a coup dʼétat. In general, for more than 200 years of Haitian independence, coups, dictatorships and mass repressions have become the norm for the country. Things are also bad in Haiti now — the country is divided between criminal clans.

Saddam Hussein became the president of Iraq in 1979. In fact, he took power after his predecessor retired due to ill health, and eliminated all possible competitors. For a long time, Hussein did not care about such a trifle as elections. But in 1995, he finally decided to "play with democracy", organized a referendum to confirm his presidential powers and received 99.96% of the votes with a turnout of 99.5% of voters.

Saddam Hussein during a military parade in Baghdad, November 2000.

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In 2002, Hussein decided to repeat the "referendum" trick — this time, according to "official data", with a 100% turnout and 100% “yes” vote. But already at the beginning of 2003, a military coalition headed by the USA and Britain overthrew the Hussein regime. And at the end of the same year, he was arrested and handed over to the new Iraqi government, which sentenced the former dictator to death in 2006.

Kim Jong Un came to power in North Korea in 2011. He continued the work of his father and grandfather — he became a one-man hard dictator. During its first parliamentary "elections" in 2014, "Great Successor" and "New Star" broke its parentʼs record of 99.9% of the vote and won with 100%. But in the next "elections" in 2019, Kim Jong Un did not even formally participate as a candidate. In this way, he broke the tradition started by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, that the North Korean leader was elected to the parliament as an ordinary deputy, despite the fact that he received powerful positions automatically. In most democratic countries, the head of state does not have a seat in the parliament. But democracy is definitely not about the DPRK. It seems that Kim Jong-un is simply fed up with this political fiction.

Kim Jong Un votes in the 2014 election.

KCNA / «Бабель»

Bonus: The most rigged election in history, Liberia 1927

In 1920, Charles King became the next president of Liberia from the True Whig Party, which essentially ruled the country for over a hundred years. King can hardly be considered a classic African dictator, rather a corruptor of the highest kind. During his presidency, he traded public lands bypassing parliament, leasing them to foreign corporations for 99 years. Under King, nepotism in the state apparatus reached an unheard-of level.

But the apogee was the election of 1927, at which King planned to be re-elected for a second term. According to official data, he won a convincing victory — 243 000 votes against his opponentʼs 9 000. However, it later turned out that at that time there were only about 15 000 registered voters in the country. That is, the cheating of the turnout amounted to almost 1,600%.

Charles King (foreground, second left) with his government officials during a visit to Berlin, 1927.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

In three years, King was forced to resign, but not because of election fraud. The opposition accused his government of using forced labor — effectively the slave trade. The case reached the League of Nations, the predecessor of the UN. A commission was appointed there, which confirmed the accusations. So, under pressure from the international community, King left. He was succeeded by Edwin Barkley, also a representative of the True Whig Party.

In the 1980s, the 1927 Liberian presidential election entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most rigged in history" and still holds that distinction.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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