Donald Trump‘s suggestion he may challenge the results of the upcoming U.S. presidential election is striking a chord with some Canadians who know just what can happen when the outcome of a political race isn’t accepted by the losing parties.
Trump has stunned observers by saying he’ll challenge the results of the Nov. 8 election if there’s a “questionable result,” though he has teasingly promised to embrace the outcome if he wins.
The Republican presidential nominee said Thursday he was reserving his right to “contest or file a legal challenge” if he loses. That came after he suggested in Wednesday’s presidential debate that he might not accept the results of what he has repeatedly alleged is a “rigged” election.
For Genc Tirana, Trump’s words brought back memories of living in Albania, a small country in eastern Europe that spent decades under communist rule.
“It is surprising because we don’t expect there to be a rigged system in the United States. In our mind, the United States has the best democracy in the world,” said Tirana, who immigrated to Canada about 15 years ago.
Albania held its first free and democratic elections in 1991, but the handover of power in one of Europe’s poorest countries has since been often marred by violence and political unrest, with losing parties refusing to accept defeat.
The fallout from such events, Tirana said, was very real.
IN DEPTH: 2016 U.S. presidential election
“When this happened back home it was a collapse, at least for that moment,” said the Toronto resident.
“When the party didn’t accept the election, they didn’t go to parliament at all. They didn’t fill the seats. The seats were empty….It can affect the political and economic life for sure.”
Having lived through those years of political turmoil in his native country, Tirana says he finds finds Trump’s rhetoric unsettling.
“People like us, coming to North America, expect democracy in the United States. We don’t expect people to denounce the election,” he said.
Tirana likely isn’t alone in his reaction.
“Anybody who has come from a society where elections are fraught or unfair…for those people who are in Canada, I think the whole thing just brings back some horrible memories of a system that was completely flawed and led to permanent instability,” said Robert Austin, an associate professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
Austin, who is a specialist on East Central and Southeastern Europe, said Trump’s comments on potentially not accepting the election results immediately reminded him of his days as a journalist in the Balkans where “elections had no losers.”
“They had only the winner and the guy who said the elections had been rigged,” he recalled. “It also meant that politicians had extraordinary longevity because if you never really lost an election you didn’t have to quit and move on.”
Problematic elections and political behaviour in countries with emerging democracies, however, are different from Trump questioning the integrity of the long-standing U.S. election system, Austin said.
“There’s no tradition in the United States of one single candidate announcing ahead of time that the election is rigged, without providing any facts either,” he said. “The United States has very strong institutions, so his comment is really unfortunate because it throws doubt on institutions and that’s the real danger.”
Not accepting the outcome of an election can lead to “tremendous instability,” Austin said, and also lead to the emergence of those who constantly argue the election was stolen.
“This appeals to militants, the real hardline supporters of Trump,” said Austin. “Most ordinary people who vote will say ‘Look this is nonsense.’ But the real diehard militants in this ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign, they’ll be impacted by that.”