Facing impeachment, some world leaders have stood their ground. Others ran away.
Add to list
Miriam Berger and
Dec. 19, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. EST
Many world leaders under fire have simply stepped down before an impeachment, successful or not, could come to fruition. In Israel, for example, Moshe Katsav resigned as prime minister in 2007 as part of a plea bargain he brokered after being charged with sexual harassment and rape. In some countries, leaders technically must be stripped of their official powers (and accompanying immunity) to be impeached and tried by lawmakers or judges.
It can be an arduous — and drama-filled — process. Here’s how some of the impeachments, convictions and subsequent ousters of different world leaders have unfolded.
After months of popular protests, in March 2017 it finally happened: South Korea’s constitutional court upheld a parliamentary vote, passed that December, to impeach president Park Geun-hye over her involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
Park’s impeachment marked a historic moment for South Korea, which had made the transition to democracy just 30 years earlier, swapping military coups for peaceful protests, as The Washington Post reported at the time.
The story leading up to that moment was pretty wild. Park stood accused of helping to extract lucrative bribes for her lifelong friend Choi Soon-sil, who had no official government role but wielded plenty of influence. Dubbed “Choi-gate,” the scandal ensnared several big businesses: In one case, Samsung was accused of planning to pay Choi $37 million in return for pushing Park to provide the company favorable treatment. Park reportedly rarely consulted her official advisers and ministers, but relied heavily on Choi for everything from clothing choices to policies on North Korea.
Park is the daughter of former military strongman and president Park Chung-hee, and Choi is the daughter of Choi Tae-min, the founder of a religious cult who once served as a spiritual adviser for the younger Park. Both women have denied allegations of wrongdoing. “The biased Korean media, coupled with left-leaning and North Korean sympathizing labor unions, have led anti-Park protests to the streets of South Korea,” Park’s attorney told reporters in 2017.
The South Korean impeachment process brought results. And, as The Post’s Anna Fifield and Yoonjung Seo reported in 2017, some South Koreans have been gleefully following the American drama to offer their insight. While it wasn’t so long ago that American leaders boasted of “exporting democracy” to the world, now Koreans have a counteroffer: “Maybe we can export our impeachment know-how to the U.S.?” a popular South Korean blogger wrote online.
“Considering the high demand, maybe we can charge at least $1 billion??” — the cost of the advanced missile defense system that Trump wants Seoul to host as a defense against North Korea — wrote a user of a popular Korean Internet debate forum.
Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr was the first president of Iran after the 1979 revolution, and now lives in exile in France, where he still occasionally gives interviews. In 1981, Iran’s parliament formally impeached and removed him from office for being “politically incompetent.”
He had already fled by then and gone into hiding days earlier.
Bani-Sadr had been a close associate of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Islamist side of Iran’s revolution. Khomeini’s faction ultimately won out and went about setting up a self-described Islamic Republic. Bani-Sadr had supported Khomeini, but as president began to oppose some of the repressive and conservative policies his former revolutionary ally was imposing, like mandating all women cover their hair with a veil. Bani-Sadr’s opposition and impeachment was one of several initial struggles over the form and function of Iran’s new theocratic government. The legacy persists: Iran’s political system remains bifurcated, with the elected office of the president (and parliament and ministries) subservient to the supreme leader and the institutions and networks he controls.
In 2000, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori found himself wrapped up in a massive corruption scandal. His government had long been accused of serious human rights violations, and then a video of his feared intelligence chief asking for a large bribe aired on national TV. Fujimori seemed to sense things could end badly for him at home. So after attending a conference in Brunei, he flew to his parents’ homeland, Japan, and resigned. By fax.
That was not exactly well-received in Peru. Lawmakers rejected his faxed attempt to escape impeachment and voted a few days later to impeach him anyway.
Five years later, he was arrested on a trip to Chile and extradited to Peru, where he was eventually found guilty on a whole slew of charges, ranging from human rights violations to embezzlement.
In 2017, then-Peruvian President Pablo Kuczynski faced his own impeachment scandal over his alleged coverup in the wide-ranging Odebrecht scandal, in which a number of politicians across the continent took bribes from the Brazilian construction company in exchange for competitive contracts. Fujimori advocated for him from prison, meeting with lawmakers and calling for them to protect Kuczynski. Days after he survived the vote, Kuczynski tried to free the reportedly ailing Fujimori with a controversial pardon. The Supreme Court later overturned that decision and Fujimori went back to prison.
And the next year, facing the possibility that he’d have to confront a second impeachment effort, Kuczynski resigned.
Earlier this year, former Peruvian president Alan García fatally shot himself as police arrived at his home in Lima to arrest him for his alleged involvement in the same Odebrecht scandal that sparked efforts to impeach Kuczynski.
Abdurrahman Wahid was Indonesia’s fourth president and a longtime opponent of authoritarian leader Suharto, who ruled the country for more than 30 years before resigning in 1998. Wahid, known by the honorific Gus Dur, was a Muslim cleric beloved for his jovial style. He was also a staunch defender of political pluralism.
But his election to the presidency in 1999 didn’t go exactly as planned. Two years later, Indonesia’s parliament voted to impeach and replace him over his alleged incompetence and involvement in two financial scandals, totaling about $5 million. Wahid denied the charges and tried to issue a state of emergency after the verdict, though he soon yielded and stepped down.
He died in 2009 at age 69, having remained an influential voice in politics even after his ousting.
By the time Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faced an impeachment vote in August 2016, she was battling such high levels of unpopularity that it seemed nearly impossible that her presidency could survive.
As The Post reported at the time, Rousseff was ultimately removed from office based on charges that she had violated budget laws. But her ousting was also part of “a tide of revulsion against Brazil’s political class as the once-flourishing economy contracted and political parties were tarred by a massive corruption scandal.”
The Brazilian Senate voted 61-20 in favor of her impeachment, and she was replaced by Michel Temer, who had served as her vice president and coalition partner.
The political upheaval threw Brazil, already facing an economic crisis, into a period of deep uncertainty. This helpful explainer delves more into the complicated chaos that led to her impeachment.
Trump has likened the impeachment case against him to an “attempted coup.” Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo also called his impeachment and swift conviction a “coup” — but then stepped down from power anyway.
After an impeachment trial of only two days in June 2012, Paraguay’s Congress found the left-leaning Lugo, a former Catholic bishop, guilty of mishandling armed clashes that broke out the week before and left 17 police and farmers dead.
“Although the law’s been twisted like a fragile branch in the wind, I accept Congress’ decision,” Lugo said after his ouster in a national television address.
Lugo was in power for four tumultuous years, but the opposition-held Congress acted as a roadblock to him implementing his promises for reforms.
Rolandas Paksas, a former stunt pilot, took over Lithuania’s presidency in 2003 after a runoff election. He didn’t last long.
Just over a year later, the Lithuanian parliament voted to remove him from office over his controversial connection with Yuri Borisov, a Russian-Lithuanian businessman believed to have ties to organized crime in Russia. Borisov made large donations to Paksas on the campaign trail, which opponents said ultimately secured him unfair access to the president. Paksas also granted citizenship to Borisov.
Some leaders have tried resigning to avoid impeachment. But even as parliament got ready to vote in favor of removing Paksas from office, he stood his ground. “I do not feel guilty,” he told lawmakers, according to the New York Times.
They voted to impeach him anyway.