Election 2020

Trump’s Still Got Some Believers—Strongmen, Populists, and Authoritarians Refuse to Recognize Biden’s Win

Some leaders are breaking ranks with the majority of world leaders in the hopes that Trump will somehow cling to power.

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin
U.S. President Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on Nov. 11, 2017. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

While most world leaders have lined up to congratulate U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on winning the 2020 election, a handful of the world’s strongmen have been conspicuous by their absence. From Russia to Latin America to China, some leaders have so far held their tongues on President Donald Trump’s loss, a stark reminder of the friends he made along the way. 

While Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first to congratulate Trump in 2016, the Kremlin announced on Monday that the Russian leader will not recognize Biden as president-elect until Trump’s spurious legal challenges to the vote have been resolved. 

“We believe it’s correct to wait for the official results of the elections to be announced,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a call on Monday. After Putin was reelected in 2018 in an election that opposition activists say was marred by irregularities, Trump’s advisors left an all-caps note in his briefing materials ahead of a call with his Russian counterpart: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” He did it anyway.

Peskov’s comments were echoed on Monday by the spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry. Wang Wenbin acknowledged Biden’s claim of victory but added that Beijing would be watching that “U.S. law and procedures” were followed, according to the BBC. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was repeatedly praised by Trump, also has yet to recognize the results of the U.S. election. (On Tuesday, a day after this article was first published, Erdogan extended his congratulations to President-elect Biden.)

Meanwhile, the two largest countries in Latin America are yet to congratulate Biden. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, one of Trump’s closest allies worldwide who openly endorsed the U.S. president last month, has yet to congratulate either candidate, though he did appear to distance himself from the U.S. president on Friday, calling for “humility” and saying that Trump was “not the most important person in the world.”

The Bolsonaro administration’s first—and so far only—reference to the election results came from the official in charge of promoting Afro-Brazilian culture, who questioned Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s blackness. (The official also argued that Bolsonaro, as well as Putin and Xi, was right to not congratulate Biden, after calling the Democrat’s victory “nonexistent.”)

In Mexico, populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who refused to ever concede his own prior election loss in 2006, reportedly said that he will not congratulate the president-elect yet, as he wants to wait for legal matters to be resolved. His decision has worried key Latin America watchers in the United States, including Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who serves as vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This represents a stunning diplomatic failure … at a time when the incoming Biden Administration is looking to usher in a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico,” Castro, who is Mexican American, said.

Only one leader, populist Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, has gone so far as to congratulate Trump, doing so on Wednesday, long before the race was called by the Associated Press and television networks on Saturday. Since then he has doubled down, retweeting conspiracy theories and Fox News clips prompting allegations of fraud. 

In Estonia, the country’s far-right interior minister Mart Helme announced his resignation on Monday after making a series of unfounded comments in a radio interview over the weekend alleging that the election had been rigged and that Trump would eventually be declared the winner. Helme’s son Martin, who also serves as finance minister, also alleged that the elections were falsified, but the younger Helme has not resigned.

Update, Nov. 11, 2020: This article was updated to reflect the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had congratulated President-elect Joe Biden after publishing.

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

Augusta Saraiva is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @gutavsaraiva

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