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While events in Washington may have been shocking and embarrassing to many, the history of political transition of power have seldom been peaceful
While events in Washington may have been shocking and embarrassing to many, the history of political transition of power have seldom been peaceful

Mint Lite | Failed coups

Violent, unpleasant even prolonged—transitions of political power have often made news around the world

While events in Washington may have been shocking and embarrassing to many, the history of political transition of power have seldom been peaceful. As a matter of fact, in America it was not till 1801 that the first peaceful transition of power took place. That year, the country’s second president, John Adams quietly walked out of Washington, D.C. in the cover of night. Following his humiliating defeat to close friend, and political rival, Thomas Jefferson, Adams decided to not even attend the inauguration ceremony. But stories of violent transitions have continued around the globe.

Capitol Hill of shame



No longer can the United States go about the world preaching democracy and democratic values.
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No longer can the United States go about the world preaching democracy and democratic values.

No longer can the United States go about the world preaching democracy and democratic values. What happened in Washington D.C. on Wednesday would go down as perhaps the most shameful, and horrible, incident in the annals of the world’s oldest democracy. Hundreds of armed supporters of grudgingly-outgoing president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol Hill, in an attempt to stall the certification of the November general election in which Democratic Party’s Joe Biden won. Trump refused to concede, urging his supporters to help him overturn what he called a rigged vote. Wednesday’s rioting unfolded after Trump addressed supporters outside the White House and asked them to reach the Capitol to vent their anger at the voting process. His supporters did not disappoint in mounting a vile attack on America’s democracy.

In past imperfect

A file photo of Herbert Hoover
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A file photo of Herbert Hoover

The transition of power between Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first one to take place during a national economic collapse since the Panic of 1893. During this time, there was a longer transition period, ending on 4 March 1933 instead of the current 20 January. According to Hoover’s biographer, William Leuchtenburg, Hoover considered Roosevelt “very badly informed" and refused to be photographed with him. On the other hand, Roosevelt refused his predecessor’s request for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the crisis and calm investors and even dropped Hoover from the official White House birthday greetings messages. Roosevelt also survived an assassination attempt—the first to occur in a presidential transition. However, the mayor of Chicago and a woman standing in the crowd lost their lives to the bullet.

The 44-day civil war

The Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 was caused by the February vote of the Costa Rican Legislature.
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The Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 was caused by the February vote of the Costa Rican Legislature.

The Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 was caused by the February vote of the Costa Rican Legislature. The country’s politics in the 1940’s was characterized by disputes of political groups trying to retain or win power. Much like the present crisis in US, when Opposition candidate Otilio Ulate won the elections by a landslide, the legislature alleged that he had used fraudulent ways. The Electoral Tribunal even declared Ulate the winner, but later, due to significant irregularities the new congress nullified the presidential election. This resulted in an uprising of the National Liberation Army, led by commander José Figueres. More than 2,000 lives were lost during the 44-day civil war, which culminated in the defeat of President Teodoro Picado. After the war, Figueres ruled for a year and a half as head of a provisional government junta which abolished the military.

Tradition vs democracy

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba
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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba

African nations are no stranger to election violence. The 1992 Angolan election led to a 10-year civil war while the 2007/08 Kenyan election left over 1,500 people dead. Similar stories have been reported in Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Gambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and more. In 2016, Gabon erupted in violent protests after incumbent President Ali Bongo defeated opposition candidate Jean Ping. Claims of fraud led to the Parliament and other government buildings being set ablaze. Bongo had taken power from his father, Omar Bongo in 2009, and his re-election would mean another seven years of the family’s rule. Incumbent leaders viewing government positions as their patrimony, and wanting to prolong their stay in power has been a problem for many African nations. When such cultures clash with democratic norms, violence is the result.

Myanmar’s experiment

Aung San Suu Kyi
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Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s current leader Aung San Suu Kyi was not allowed to take power in 1990 by the country’s military despite her leading her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to victory in the national election. Instead, she was put in jail. The military junta ruled until 2010, when a party backed by it won the national election boycotted by Suu Kyi’s party. In November 2015, the military-backed president Thein Sein agreed to a peaceful transfer of power after the NLD registered a landslide victory in the polls, ending more than five decades of military-backed government in Myanmar. Suu Kyi is not the president, as the country’s rules bar people with foreign spouses or children, as she does, from the top post. Still, she is the de facto leader. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while still under house arrest, and hailed as “an example of the power of the powerless".

Curated by Sohini Sen. Have something to share with us? Write to us at feedback@livemint or tweet to @shohinisen


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