How has that worked out?
In some cases, the politicians’ careers have been damaged or ruined. In others, although the leaders were not allowed to run again, their allies and political movements have survived and even flourished.
In Peru, for example, lawmakers in 2001 barred President Alberto Fujimori from holding office for a decade, following his ouster in a corruption scandal. But his daughter Keiko, boosted by his supporters, nearly won the presidency in 2011 and 2016. Argentine President Juan Perón was overthrown in a coup in 1955 and banned from running again. He not only returned to the country’s highest office in 1973, but his movement became a mainstay of Argentine politics — current President Alberto Fernández is a Peronista.
In some instances in Latin America, Harvard political scientist Steven Levitzky said, imposing “legitimate bans on major populist figures for anti-democratic behavior didn’t work well. They were very destabilizing.”
That is because those leaders portrayed themselves as martyrs and maintained a significant level of popularity, said Levitzky, co-author of “How Democracies Die.” Many people supported the politicians, but were unable to vote for them.
And yet, allowing leaders who commit abuses to run again is also problematic, Levitzky said. He said Trump’s efforts to overturn presidential election results amounted to “stabbing at the heart of democracy.”
“If he’s allowed to run, the system has to essentially condone his behavior,” Levitzky said. (Trump has called the impeachment effort “a witch hunt.”)
Here are some world leaders who have been banned from returning to office, and the fallout:
Fernando Collor de Mello, president of Brazil 1990-92
Two years into his presidency, Collor de Mello was impeached on corruption charges and barred from running for office for eight years. But his political career was not over: He was elected to the Senate in 2006, and reelected in 2014. Another Brazilian ex-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was leading in the polls for another term in 2018 when he was banned by an electoral court because he had been found guilty of corruption. That cleared the way for the election of former fringe politician Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is appealing his convictions and remains one of Brazil’s most popular politicians.
Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru 1990-2000
Lawmakers declared the conservative populist “morally unfit” amid a corruption scandal and removed him from the presidency in 2000. He was subsequently banned from public office. His daughter Keiko took up his political mantle — called Fujimorismo — benefiting from the support her father retained among poor Peruvians. She rose to lead the right-wing Popular Force party in Congress and finished second in the presidential races in 2011 and 2016. Alberto Fujimori is serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption and human rights violations. Keiko Fujimori is under investigation for alleged money laundering — she says she is innocent — but could compete in April’s presidential election.
Efraín Ríos Montt, president of Guatemala 1982-83
The general took power in a 1982 coup and was deposed by the military a year later. A 1985 constitutional reform banned former coup leaders and their close relatives from running for president. Still, the ex-dictator ran for president in 2003, arguing that the provision did not apply to him. He won just 11 percent of the vote, but went on to serve in Congress from 2004 to 2012. In 2013, after losing his congressional seat and therefore his immunity from prosecution, he was convicted of genocide for the brutal massacre of Mayan citizens during the country’s civil war. The sentence was overturned, and he was being tried again when he died in 2018. Ríos Montt’s daughter Zury was a leading far-right presidential candidate in 2019 but was disqualified under the constitutional ban.
Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel 2006-09
After leaving office, Olmert was convicted of bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust, and served 16 months in prison. Israeli law bans people convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude” from running for the Knesset for seven years from their release from prison. After Olmert completed his sentence in 2017, he sought to clear his name. Though his reputation was tarnished, Olmert did not lose followers as such because, the Israeli parliamentary system revolves more around parties than individual leaders.
Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy 1994-95, 2001-06, 2008-11
The media mogul and center-right politician served as Italy’s prime minister for more than nine years between 1994 and 2011. In 2013, he was convicted of tax fraud; he subsequently was expelled from the Senate and banned from holding political office for six years. He remained influential through his media holdings and his leadership of the Forza Italia party. An Italian court lifted the political ban in 2018, a year early, citing “good conduct.” While Berlusconi’s party has declined in popularity, he won a seat in the European Parliament in 2019.