History is littered with tales of leaders who were forcibly removed from office, but toppling someone at the top isn’t just for the old days of medieval kings and queens. Lots of world leaders end up on the wrong side of political discontent in the modern era, too. Even leaders who were elected through popular vote and those who enjoyed massive popularity, if only briefly, can publicly stumble and get toppled from their nation’s highest office. Scandal, corruption, sometimes the mere hint of criminal activity can lead to impeachment and embarrassing removal from office…or much worse.
All these leaders got all the way to the top, but they didn’t get to stay there. Each one of these world leaders found that having the most powerful position in their respective nations could not shield them from the angry public — even, in at least one case, when no crime was actually committed. In the court of public opinion, these world leaders were found guilty, and all lost their positions of power because of it.
It might not be common for those who hold the highest of political offices to be removed from their seats, but it has happened in countries all over the world. It almost makes you wonder who might be next on the list.
15. Park Geun-hye, President of South Korea
President Geun-hye is the most recent world leader to be removed from office. She was forced to step down from the Presidency of South Korea in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court unanimously upheld Parliament’s vote to impeach her. Geun-hye is accused of corruption and using her influence improperly while in office. Protests demanding her removal from office were conducted peacefully. The President’s lifelong friend, who had no official position, is accused of accepting bribes from big businesses in South Korea, including Samsung, to use her relationship with the President to provide special favors. President Park is facing multiple legal charges due to the scandal.
14. Rolandas Paksas, President of Lithuania
Rolandas Paksas was removed from office by the Lithuanian Parliament in April 2004, less than 14 months after he took office. He was found guilty of three counts of violating his oath of office and the Lithuanian Constitution. Paksas was found to be involved in deals with a Lithuanian-Russian businessman alleged to have ties to organized crime in Russia. Paksas holds the dubious honor of being the first European world leader to be ousted from office through impeachment. Paksas denied the charges, accusing his political opponents of engaging in a revenge plot against him. Ahead of the vote by Parliament, Paksas said “I do not feel guilty.”
13. Manuel Noriega, Military Dictator of Panama
Manuel Noriega rose quickly through the ranks of Panama’s military, and worked with the U.S. in 1971 to help free two American freighter crews seized by Cuba. He took command of Panama’s Army in 1983 to become the leader of the county, a position he held until 1990. In 1986, the “New York Times” released an expose accusing Noriega of various crimes including drug trafficking, money laundering and murder. He was indicted for drug smuggling and racketeering by the U.S. in 1989. Months later, the U.S. military invaded Panama for “Operation Just Cause” to remove him from power. Noriega surrendered after 10 days. He was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was extradited to France in 2010 and sentenced to several more years in prison by the French court.
12. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela
President Chavez enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating during his first year in office, 1999. His platform included spending on social programs and putting an end to corruption, very popular ideas that met with approval from the public. Chavez drafted a new Constitution that required new elections of every official in the country. He won his re-election in 2000, but a strong anti-Chavez sentiment began to form. He was seen as a bit of a radical. By 2002, anti-Chavez marches were common and his approval rating had dipped to 30 percent. Nearly 1 million people marched on the Presidential palace in 2002 to demand his resignation. This led to a gun battle with the National Guard, the beginnings of a military revolt. Chavez was taken into custody and a new interim president was appointed the next day.
11. Juan Peron, President of Argentina
Juan Peron rose to power through Argentina’s military in the 1940s and helped to overthrow the government. He rose quickly in the new administration as a favorite of the President, and was appointed Vice President in 1944. In 1946, he was elected to the Presidency himself. A popular President, he was re-elected in 1951. But the winds of change blew through Argentina in the early 1950. A confederation of military leaders banded together in September 1955 to remove him from office. Peron was driven into exile as a result, fleeting first to Paraguay and then Madrid. Even from exile, Person exerted considerable political influence and won the Presidency again in 1973. He died in office.
10. Idi Amin, President of Uganda
General Idi Amin overthrew the government in 1971 and declared himself President of Uganda. This began an 8-year regime that saw 300,000 citizens of the country killed. He banished Indian and Pakistani citizens from the country in 1972. This, along with drastic military spending, created an economic decline in 1972 that lasted for decades. Amin enjoyed ultimate power in the country until 1979, when a group of Ugandan exiles banded together and took control of the capital city of Kampala. Amin was forced to flee. He lived the rest of his life in Saudi Arabia and was never convicted of any crime.
9. Abdurrahman Wahid, President of Indonesia
Abdurrahman Wahid was the first-ever democratically elected President of Indonesia. The long-standing dictator of the country had just been overthrown when Wahid was elected into office in 1998. However, he only served 22 months of a 5-year term before he was impeached. His short-lived term was controversial, as he helped to establish ties with Israel and seemed to turn a blind eye toward growing economic crisis in the country. Allegations of corruption and nepotism swirled around Wahid. Though unproven, it was enough to get him impeached by Parliament in July 2001. He continued to be well-loved and well-known by the people of Indonesia, and was nationally mourned when he passed away in 2010.
8. Christian Wulff, President of Germany
Though the Chancellor is the real power in Germany and the Presidency is considered to be something of a ceremonial office, it surprised the world when Christian Wulff stepped down. Wulff was forced to resign from the position amid growing stories of scandals that took place when he held a previous government position. Wulff resigned in 2012 due to allegations of acts committed in 2010. He was accused of accepting political favors and other corruption while serving as a state premier in Lower Saxony. He served as President for only 20 months. Later, he was found not guilty of the crimes that forced him out of office.
7. Nicolae Ceausescu, General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party
Ceausescu served 30 months in prison for working as an active member of the underground Communist Party. This is where he met Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, an influential revolutionary who took Ceausescu under his wing and acted as something of a mentor to him. Ceausescu escaped prison in 1944. In 1945, his prison pal became the leader of the entire country and Ceausescu began to rise quickly in government. When Gheorghiu-Dej died in 1965, he named Ceausescu as his successor. A violent revolt broke out in Romania in 1989 as the Soviet Union and Communist Party began to collapse in Europe. The army and citizens of the country took Ceausescu into custody and conducted a quick trial that took less than hour. Many said the trial was merely for show. Ceausescu was convicted and immediately executed by firing squad.
6. Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay
A popular bishop, Lugo decided to go into politics in 2005. He won the 2008 election to become President of Paraguay, ending a 62-year conservative party hold of the office. His land redistribution ideas, however were met with resistance. The President was blamed when peasant farmers and police got into a violent conflict that caused 17 deaths in 2012. A week later, he was impeached by the Chamber of Deputies and convicted of incompetence in the Senate. He was removed from office at once. Lugo initially agreed to the procedure but then denounced the impeachment, saying he was the victim of a “parliamentary coup.”
5. Moshe Katsav, President of Israel
Israeli President Moshe Katsav accused a female employee of blackmailing him, but the tables turned quickly when she stepped forward with allegations of her own. The employee in question accused Katsav of sexual harassment and rape. When four more women came forward with similar claims, authorities brought charges against Katsav. He resigned from the Presidency as part of a plea deal with authorities. He was convicted of two counts of rape in 2010 and sentenced to serve 7 years in prison. He was released after serving 5 years. He was granted parole after two previously failed attempts. Katsav has maintained his innocence and denied the charges against him throughout. Part of the terms of Katsav’s release state that he may not give interviews to the media and cannot leave his house after 10 pm. He was ordered to attend therapy weekly, and is never allowed to serve in any position where he has authority over women.
4. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
Dilma Rousseff became Brazil’s first female president in 2011. She was reelected in 2014 with a popular platform advocating human rights, tax reform and economic stability. However, her entire Presidency was stained with accusations of corruption. It became the largest political corruption scandal in the country’s history, and involved bribing members of the Chamber of Deputies. Brazil’s Senate voted to remove Dilma Rousseff from her high office in a landslide majority after charges were brought against her for misusing the federal budget. Years of corruption allegations plagued Rousseff, and many said her impeachment was only a matter of time. That time came in August 2015.
3. Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
President Perez Molina was nearing the end of his term, which started in 2012, when scandal broke. Investigators learned that the President and people in his inner circle were receiving bribes to lower taxes in a huge importing scheme. Months of protests in the streets of Guatemala and weeks of media reports led to the arrest of President Perez Molina in September, 2015. Congress accepted his offer to resign the presidency by a 118-0 vote. He left the presidency just days before the country’s presidential election. He has yet to stand trial, but charges against Perez Molina continue to mount. Prosecutors were still questioning witnesses in January 2017.
2. Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru
Fujimori served as Peru’s President from 1990 to 2000, when it all fell apart. After declaring a state of emergency in 1992 and orchestrating a military-supported coup, he ran for the presidency unopposed for a second and third term. A bribery scandal came out in 2000 implicating the country’s former intelligence chief and severely damaged Fujimori’s presidency. As the government toppled in the wake of the scandal, Fujimori fled to Japan. He announced his resignation of the presidency from here. Japan refused multiple extradition requests from Peru. Fujimori traveled to Chile in 2006 to contest the presidential election, and was arrested upon arrival. He was sent back to Peru and convicted of multiple crimes in 2009.
1. Richard Nixon, President of the United States
Nixon was already an accomplished politician and a nationally-known figure when he assumed office in 1968. Despite presiding over a tumultuous time in American history, Nixon won his 1972 reelection by a landslide. But within months, the Watergate scandal broke. A break-in at the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 campaign was traced to the Committee to Re-elect the President. Nixon initially denied involvement in the scandal as top-level administration officials fled the White House in a flurry of resignations. When Nixon was legally compelled to produce tap recordings he’d captured, it was revealed that he did try to impede the investigation into the break-in. Nixon resigned the Presidency in August, 1974, because he (like the rest of the country) was certain he would be convicted in an impeachment trial.
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