Putin, Saddam, Duvalier: Dictators and Their ‘Laws’ and ‘Elections’

Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, after his ‘reelection’ as ‘president,’ October 18, 1995 (Reuters)

That guy up there, Saddam Hussein? He used to be in the news a lot. Haven’t seen him in a while. I thought of him yesterday — will tell you why in a minute.

My Impromptus today begins with the issue of boycotting: To do it or not to do it? It depends, of course. And these questions are very personal. I explore them a bit.


I also have several items concerning Russia. The life expectancy of opposition leaders in Russia is not great. Alexei Navalny’s health has taken a bad turn. He was recently imprisoned. He is still alive, at this writing.

If they kill him? I think the “world” will grumble for a couple of days, and that’ll be it.

Putin, meanwhile, seems in robust good health. He is intensifying his war in Ukraine. And he has just signed a law — a “law,” isn’t that cute? — that will allow him to stay in power until 2036. In my column, I say, “Funny that autocrats think they have to do these things. It is the tribute that vice, or autocracy, pays to virtue, or something. They want to go through the motions. Have their little toy parliaments and so on.”

As you are aware, Putin is not without friends in the democratic West. I know some of them personally. Their attitude is summed up by a statement that Diane James made, in Britain. She was a UKIP leader. “I admire him from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country,” she said. “He is very nationalist. He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first.”

There ya go.

Thinking of Putin and his little “law,” I thought of Saddam Hussein, but first I thought of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. He liked his little “democratic” fig leaves. In 1961, he staged a referendum on his rule. He was asking the Haitian people for six more years in “office.” He did really well in that election — winning it 1,320,748 votes to zero.

Duvalier, a humble sort, said, “I accept the people’s will. As a revolutionary, I have no right to disregard the will of the people.”

Ten years later, he decided that his son, Jean-Claude, would succeed him. “Baby Doc” was a tender 19 years old. His father would not just install him — he was far too democratic for that. He submitted his decision to a referendum of the people. They agreed with him: 2,391,916 votes to zero.

And our late antagonist Saddam Hussein? When he ran in 1995, he had a close call: He won that election with 99.96 percent of the vote. Turnout was 99.47 percent. He did a lot better in 2002 — winning 100 percent of the vote, with 100 percent turnout.

He must have finally persuaded the soccer moms in the suburbs.

Again, my column today is here, for your delectation, dissection, or both.