Were there any dictators1 who, after being toppled by a revolution or the like, managed to get back to power via what is (or was considered by the norms applied at the time) free and transparent2 elections ?

It's NOT required that the comeback occurs at the first elections held after the toppling.

To make things even easier :

1 - The ruler must be a dictator (no matter how he got there);

2 - (S)he is ousted after a popular revolution (bloody or not, coups NOT included);

3 - A democratic regime, where elections are free, is established;

4 - N presidents took power, where N = 0, 1, 2, ...;

5 - The ex-dictator is allowed to run for presidency and wins elections.

1 : A dictator is a ruler who maintains a total power over a country. It could be a president in a military regime (North Korea), a president in a pseudo-democratic regime (Prerevolutionary Tunisia, where elections results were known beforehand), a monarch (Saudi Arabia) ...

2 : For the sake of this question, every elections where those, who are allowed to vote, can choose the candidate they want, is considered free and transparent. Here, it doesn't matter if the voters were only males, or from a particular race, etc.

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    You need to clarify what you include in "dictator" and "more democratic".
    – DVK
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 14:18
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    Does the U.S. count as democratic prior to 1964, with a severe educational requirement imposed on voters in many of the Southern states? Does South Africa prior to 1990 count as democratic or not? For how long was Weimar Germany democratic? Please provide a definition of democracy that can actually be used to determine answers to the difficult questions; not just the easy ones. Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 16:33
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    @PieterGeerkens - Does the U.S. count as democratic prior to 1964 with a severe educational requirement... - "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government..." - attributed to Jefferson, among others. You can't buy votes so easily, or get elected just because you look good on TV, if the voters are well informed. Educational requirements strengthen democracy. (If we're calling the USA a democracy here, which apparently we are...)
    – user2590
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 7:38
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    This question is become increasingly verbose with qualifiers. I'm voting to close until it can be condensed into something that people might actually stumble across when seeking insight on the internet. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 2:02
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    This is a new site member whom we tied up in knots with numerous suggestions. After the first one or two, it might have been better to edit the question rather than confuse the OP with more critiques. Not a perfect question, but quite a good first effort IMHO.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 26, 2013 at 21:28

8 Answers 8


The person that comes to mind is Getulio Vargas of Brazil. He first took power in 1930, in a military-backed coup, after being defeated in a Presidential race, ousting the outgoing President and President-elect. He ruled as a virtual dictator until 1945, at which time he was forced to step down from the Presidency, and allow democratic elections, because his participation in World War II alongside the Allies had undercut the legitimacy of his quasi-Fascist regime, the so-called Estado Novo.

In 1948, after his successor, Gaspar Dutra had wasted the foreign exchange reserves accumulated by the country during World War II, Vargas was re-elected President by democratic means. When right-wing military officers thwarted his statist policies (following the creation of "national" steel, mining, petroleum, and electric companies) he "fell on his sword" by committing suicide/ But he left a suicide note that stymied his enemies, and thereby maintained Brazilian democracy for several more Presidential elections, until 1964.


What about Simeon II of Bulgaria?

After WW2, he was exiled:

On 15 September 1946, a referendum was held in the presence of the Soviet army. It resulted in a 97% approval for republic and abolition of the monarchy. On 16 September 1946, the royal family was exiled from Bulgaria. Simeon II has never signed any abdication papers—neither at that moment when he was nine years old, nor later

But he was elected and served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005.


  • It has been pointed out that Simeon II was under a regency, since he was a child.
  • It was also noted that Bulgaria was a constitutional monarchy at the time of the regency. Actually, the Tarnovo Constitution, which used to be considered quite advanced back in the 19th century, had been heavily modified to give more power to the tzar. Furthermore, in 1935 Simeon's father, Boris III, had practically established a dictatorship:

    [...] he staged a counter-coup and assumed control of the country by establishing a regime loyal to him. The political process was controlled by the Tsar, but a form of parliamentary rule was re-introduced, without the restoration of the political parties. With the rise of the "King's government" in 1935 [...]

  • Someone could argue that the events that led to Simeon's deposition constitute a coup rather than a revolution.
  • The democratic regime with free elections is the capitalist republic established in 1989-1990, not the People's Republic of Bulgaria, which came after Simeon's deposition. I don't see any issues with the requirments in here.
  • Simeon II was, however, under a regency, since he was a minor. Furthermore, Bulgaria was a constitutional monarchy (but I have not been able to determine what kind of power, if any, lay with the King), so it is doubtful if he would have been a dictator even if he had been of age. Interesting bit of history, though.
    – andejons
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 19:43
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    Bulgaria used to have an advanced constitution back in 19th century but in the years before WW2 the tsar had total control over the country. But you're right that Simeon II was under regency Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:12

Two examples I can think of: Olusegun Obasanjo and Daniel Ortega.

  • I think both of the examples doesn't fit the description I gave in the question since both weren't overthrown. In fact, those two 'dictators' left their posts peacefully after elections.
    – ahmed
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 20:13
  • @ahmed Is there a third question scope requirement that the revolution that topples the dictator must be bloody? Otherwise I think a peaceful revolution where the dictator left their post qualifies. Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 0:42
  • Of course, being toppled by a "bloody" is NOT a requirement. Did I miss something here ?
    – ahmed
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 11:40
  • @ahmed Then I'm upvoting this one as valid examples of dictators that were peacefully overthrown and then elected democratically later (within suitably wide margins of the term 'democratic'). Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 12:57
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    In absence of more details regarding the initial removal from power - I'm going to assume they were pressured into it, and hence 'overthrown' as a not completely voluntary act. Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 13:00

It does not meet your popular revolution criterion, but an example is the current President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari who was head of state from 1983 to 1985 (a major-general installed by coup, removed by a different coup), and was democratically elected President in 2015, defeating the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, after coming second in 2003, 2007 and 2011.


Hugo Chavez in Venezuela violently tried to overthrow Carlos Andrea Perez in 1992 he then came to power through elections in 1999. After he gainned control by overtaking institutions and since 2004 we dont have fair and transparente elections.

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    Interesting example but the sequence of events is reversed; the question is asking for dictator first, then overthrow, elected leader after, all of the same person. Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 3:30
  • If Chavez counted, then Hitler would as well.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 9:02

Park Chung-hee was a military dictator of South Korea in the 60s and 70s. He was assassinated. His daughter Park Geun-hye, who at one point was acting First Lady of South Korea, was democratically elected president in February 2013.


I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are looking for, but Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix was Dictator of the Roman Republic in 82-81 BC, and then willingly resigned before running for the election as a Consul in 80 BC.

During his time as Dictator his power was absolute with no expiration and he made numerous constitutional reforms.

  • Sulla resigned his post as chancellor and wasn't thrown by a revolution ;)
    – ahmed
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 19:28
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    I'm in doubt as to how free the 80 BC elections really were. Or, for that, matter, if anyone else except for Sulla and his crony Pius was allowed to run. Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 19:42

I'm back to suggest an answer to my own question

In 2005, Viktor Yanukovych was declared as the winner of the presidential elections but protesters, out crying massive electoral fraud, led to the nullification of the run-off. Viktor Yanukovych lost the second run-off.

In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won the elections and became (for the second time?) the president of Ukraine.

  • Can I, please, know what the downvote is about ?
    – ahmed
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 12:21
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    Didn't downvote, but I don't think Yanukovych qualified as a dictator in 2005 (however fraudulent that election was).
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 13:02

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