World leaders who refuse to leave the stage
George Washington knew when to cede power. But many of today’s world leaders find it much harder to leave the stage – and would need a dose of humility from America’s first president.
Some don’t want to quit. Others are desperate to reclaim the influence they once had. The result is an era of stasis in already repressive countries like Russia and China, and deja vu in democracies where former rulers seem to place narcissistic considerations above national interests.
« I’ll probably have to do it again, » former President Donald Trump – the one of two impeachments and the U.S. Capitol insurrection – told his supporters calling for a second term this weekend. Boris Johnson (once called ‘Britain Trump’ by the ex-POTUS) has just mounted his own comeback bid and failed – although anyone thinks he’s given up on emulating his hero Winston Churchill, who returned as Prime Minister six years after having lost the election of 1945, surely is mistaken.
Democracy hangs by a thread in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has hinted that he may not accept defeat in his quest for a second term in this weekend’s second round of voting. end. His rival is another retread – Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the two-time former president known as « Lula » whose return to the limelight was sidetracked by a partial prison sentence (his conviction was later cancelled).
Some of the current comeback kids have been on the world stage since the 1990s. In Italy, former three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is back in parliament after a tax evasion scandal, though his bid to play the role of kingmaker in coalition talks was dissolved after bragging about her ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s old friend. Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for so long they dubbed him “King Bibi,” is another scandal-prone leader trying to recapture past glories. He is leading in the polls ahead of a new Israeli general election.
Of course, an alternative to returning is to never disappear. Putin himself has been in power since December 31, 1999 – although he had to spin a scam in which he was ‘demoted’ to prime minister for several years as the power behind the throne before returning as as president. And in China, Xi Jinping has just cemented an anti-norm third term.
Exhausted after two terms and disillusioned with bitter, partisan politics, Washington served a third term in 1796. He told Americans that he was « persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that under the present circumstances of our country you will not disapprove of my decision to retire.
Not words you hear very often these days.