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Have there been cases where a sovereign Communist government ran in an open and fair multi-party election and conceded a loss?

The reason for the sovereign qualifier is simple. If, for example, the Indian state of Kerala has a Communist government, it stands to reason that, as part of India, it could not (assuming it even wanted to) cancel elections or manipulate them overmuch - the federal Indian government would not let it.

Also, the Communist government in my question need not have been elected into power, it just needs to have allowed free elections once it had power.

edit: The notion of agency, or free choice, in allowing elections is important too. Eastern Europe in 89-90 was imploding, people were fleeing through newly opened borders and Gorbachev refused military backing. People like Honecker deserve praise for not ordering their troops to shoot (with uncertain outcomes, cf Romania), but it's not so much that they believed in democracy, it's that they had run out of all other options.

edit #2: for the purposes of the question, a Communist party is one which calls itself Communist or whose party manifesto explicitly indicates its adherence to Marxist/Leninist principles.

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    This may be due to an educational lapse on my part, but I am hard pressed to think of a Communist regime that ran a fair election ever, let alone accepted a loss from one. The impression I've gotten is that the elections they have run were as rigged as pro wrestling. – EvilSnack Mar 7 at 5:56
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    @Jos. why the reminder to be polite? I agree with EvilSnack. To qualify my question: the Communist government in my question need not be elected into power, it just needs to allow free elections once it has power. So, for example, the Soviets took over in 1917 by force. Had they held free election afterwards, then that would answer my question. Ditto Cuba, or China. These governments have been in power for decades now. – Italian Philosopher Mar 7 at 6:30
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    I think that all Eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall would qualify? – Amedee Van Gasse Mar 7 at 8:45
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    @Amedee: The end of Romania's communist regime was not peaceful – Dohn Joe Mar 7 at 12:27
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    @Greg. I strongly disagree with blending Socialism and Communism. This seems to be an American concept, because, in Europe, there is no confusion whatsoever for a voter whether they are embracing a Communist or a Socialist party. For example, at least traditionally, up to the 80s, European Communist parties explicitly recognized the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party. Tidbit: when PCF(French Comm.) members objected to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, they got ejected, something the PCF hardly brags about. – Italian Philosopher Mar 7 at 20:23

10 Answers 10

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Moldova

The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova came to power in the 2001 Moldovan parliamentary election but went into opposition after the July 2009 Moldovan parliamentary election despite being by far the largest single party.

Although the Soviet-era Communist Party of Moldova was banned in 1991, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova was legally recognized in 1994. Its presidential candidate came third in the 1996 presidential elections.

In the March 1998 Parliamentary election, the party won 40 of the 101 seats and became the largest party in parliament. Despite this, it did not come to power as other parties allied to form the government.

In the February 2001 elections, Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova won almost 50% of the vote which gave it 71 seats, a clear parliamentary majority which enabled it to form a government. Although it lost 15 seats in the 2005 election, the communists remained the governing party.

Although the communists increased their vote and number of seats in the April 2009 election, it did not have enough seats in parliament to elect a new president. Consequently, parliamentary elections were held again in July 2009. The communists lost their majority, falling to 48 of the 101 seats, and went into opposition, with the other parties forming a coalition government.

Other source:

D. J. Sager, Political Parties of the World (2009)


Guyana

The People's Progressive Party in Guyana has held power several times and was last voted out of office in the 2015 general election after being in power for more than 20 years. It is currently the main opposition party in Guyana.

The party is described as Marxist-Leninist, Communist and left-wing nationalist. It is also listed on Solidnet.org, a communist and workers organization.

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    excellent answer, thank you. anyone know if Ortega's Nicaragua elections in the mid/late 80s would also qualify? did he leave voluntarily or was he pushed out? – Italian Philosopher Mar 7 at 8:05
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    @ItalianPhilosopher That was 1990. I suppose you could say he left "voluntarily" despite the Contras and the embargo. But it's pretty debatable whether the FSLN were Communist at that point. A more explicitly Communist party was part of the opposition that won in 1990. – Brian Z Mar 7 at 12:40
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    @ItalianPhilosopher, Ortega came to power by overthrowing Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979. He lost an election in 1990 to Violeta Chamorro and left office peacefully in 1990. So that would count. I added my answer below. – JMS Mar 7 at 23:33
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    +1. Notes. 1. Lots of prejudice against the communist word erodes most discussions. 2. Communist is not Socialism, many terms begs precise definition to give a more precise answer. 3. If we see communist as a political movement born in Victorian Europe to fight monarchy and realize the nations where there such a revolution occurred never has known democracy in the first place can uncloud some questions. – jean Mar 8 at 12:04
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    @jean I agree that communism and socialism are different (socialism being much broader) but the definitions in many English dictionaries are practically identical. I consider this an example of Cold War propaganda. Socialists in America still struggle to be understood as anything other than Soviet-style Communists. – TKK Mar 8 at 21:30
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I believe the Velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia matches your criteria. It started with popular protests in November 1989. During December, the (Communist) president nominated a new government where the Communist party held 10 out of 21 seats. Then in June 1990, free elections were held and the Communist party was voted out of power, no longer being part of the government formed based on these elections.

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    I would not consider this a good example. The actual transfer of power began during the first half of 1990 already, so the Czechoslovak government at the time of the July 1990 election could probably not be considered communist anymore (communists did not have a majority). – Jan Šimbera Mar 9 at 9:23
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If you consider it sovereign, East Germany did that.

Well, they had already lost almost all control anyways, but after the wall fell they simply ran for the first election with other parties, and - obviously - lost.

So you could say that they were knowingly giving up all their power in the form of an election, but it was an election nonetheless.

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    I once heard a talk of the last prime minister of the GDR, and he noted, that from our modern perspective and with hindsight, it is astonishing that the transition in the GDR was peaceful. The only forces with clear orders to maintain peace were the Soviet troops in East Germany, they remained in their barracks and order to use force only when being attacked. All East German forces (military, state police, secret police) had no orders to that effect. – Dohn Joe Mar 7 at 12:21
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In the Republic of San Marino, an elected Communist-Socialist coalition government ruled from 1983 to 1988. They lost their majority when the Socialists scored badly in the 1988 elections, and the government was peacefully replaced by an improbable alliance including communists and christians-democrats.

After 1992's elections, communists left the government, once again without violence.

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    How would it have gone about cancelling elections and imposing a dictatorship if it was just a coalition partner? And, to boot, San Marino is a microstate, surrounded by Italy, hardly bigger than a mid sized town. – Italian Philosopher Mar 8 at 6:24
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    The first coalition was Communists and Socialists dominated by Communists, so I think it quite qualify for this question. Many coalitions gvts around the world have a record of rigging elections. And yes, San Marino is a micro - state, but it is sovereign. So what? – Evargalo Mar 8 at 8:14
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The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won elections in 2008, and subsequently lost power to the Nepali Congress in the 2013 elections.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) has led four governments in Nepal, the last one losing power to the Nepali Congress in 2016.

The two communist parties merged in 2018, forming the Nepal Communist Party, which is currently in power.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Nepal as a "hybrid regime", so elections may not be fully free and fair.

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I think the election to the upper chamber of Polish parliament (Senat) in 1989 can be considered such case.

According to the agreements of the Round Table (Okrągły Stół) the lower chamber (Sejm) had an established number of seats (65%) pre-assigned for the governing communist party (PZPR) and their satellites and the remaining MPs were selected in an entirely free election. All those freely elected MPs but 1 were captured by opposing Solidarity (Solidarność) party. Moreover the leading party decided to take only below 40% of MPs giving the rest of the "contingent" to its satellite parties (my guess is they wanted to show a divergence to cool down the anti-communist movement).

Yet all 100 seats in the upper chamber were selected freely.

As a result 99 of senators came from the main opposing party Soladarity with the remaining one place taken by a politician who was independent (but supporting opposition as well). It was a massive loss, unexpected by either of the sides.

The communists decided to accept those results. Annulling them would most probably lead back to massive unrest, strikes, you name it.

Interestingly the opposition managed to convince the satellite parties of PZPR to switch sides. As a result in August 1989 PZPR lost the majority in Polish parliament lower chamber as well effectively closing the communists rule over the Poland. All the upcoming elections (presidential in 1990 and parliamentary in 1991) were completely free and won by the recent opposition (now divergent, with a number of parties).

See this Wikipedia article as a lead in.

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Austria in 1945 had, like most of Eastern Europe, a provisional government which was approved by Stalin and had a large Communist contingent. Unlike other countries, however, the Austrian Communists did not freeze out and later ban all other parties; instead truly free elections were held, which resulted in the Communist Party ceasing to be a part of the governing coalition in 1947. This may have been because the party genuinely thought it would be more popular than the alternatives among voters who remembered Hitler, or it may have been because, Austria having been divided into four Occupation Zones, the Red Army was not the ultimate arbiter.

It's not clear how far this government could claim to be 'sovereign'; but if you are looking for a Communist government that neither seized power by military force nor used the army to retain power once gained (either of which mortgages sovereignty to the military commanders), you will have a long search

  • (Correction required?) Perhaps you did preferably mean countries of Central Europe although what you wrote may also apply to parts of the Eastern Europe. – miroxlav Mar 8 at 10:03
  • @miroxlav: No, I meant specifically Eastern Europe, as opposed (by the Iron Curtain) to Western. It was largely that election that saved Austria from becoming temporarily part of Eastern Europe. – TimLymington Mar 8 at 10:29
  • OK, so from the map in the abovelinked article you meant region of current Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Thanks for the clarification. – miroxlav Mar 8 at 10:38
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    @miroxlav During the cold war, "west" and "east" Europe was not defined by geography, but by the Iron Curtain and politics. Greece and Finland were "west", despite being further east than Czechoslovakia. TimLymington states "by the Iron Curtain" in his comment, and in this answer "east" is clearly meant in the cold war sense rather than the geographic sense. – gerrit Mar 8 at 12:07
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The Sandinista government of Nicaragua considered themselves revolutionary Marxists, allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and were called Communists by the Reagan administration, which funded an insurgency against them. Their domestic policies were left-wing, but not very similar to the Soviet Union’s.

They lost an election in 1990, had a peaceful transition of power, and the party continued to run in and win elections afterwards.

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The Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF) or Sandinistas in Nicaragua. They came to power when they overthrew Anastasio Somoza DeBayle in 1979 and then ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990. Then lost the Presidency in an election to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990. The SNLF's President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2006 through the electoral process and has since won re-election in 2011 and 2016.

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    It's not clear that Ortega's government, by that stage, was more Communist than Chamorro's. – TimLymington Mar 8 at 9:17
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    @TimLymington The United States lifted sanction on Nicaragua after Chamorro won office, paid off Nicaragua's debt to private banks, and gave them hundreds of millions in aid. The charge that the Sandinistas were still in charge was really leveled a few years after she took office when the Nicaraguan Constitution was revised after 1993 diminishing the Presidency in favor of the Legislature. – JMS Mar 9 at 1:11
  • Neither being anti-American nor pulling the strings while not formally in power makes you Communist. – TimLymington Mar 9 at 10:14
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    @TimLyminton, Agreed, what made the Santanista's Communist were none of those things. It was the full political, economic, military and diplomatic alliance between themselves and the Soviet Union. Nicaragua's was a full fledged member of the Communist block along with Cuba. They were involved with destabilizing their neighbors and exporting their revolution (7 Nicaraguan Agents Captured in Honduras). When the US announced the trade embargo in 1985 they cited Soviets inside of Nicaragua, Nicaragua's efforts to destabalize neighbors, and advanced weapon transfers being given to Nic. – JMS Mar 9 at 17:17
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I think Cyprus qualifies here.

Demetris_Christofias was president of Cyprus from 2008 to 2013. He was the candidate of the communist / Marxist-Leninist Progressive Party of Working People and Cyprus is the only EU country which has had a communist head of state.

In Cyprus, the president is both head of state and heads the government. It is not a ceremonial position, the president has real power. His party did not have a majority in parliament but it was the largest party at the time Christofias was elected president. Before becoming president of Cyprus he was president of the house of representative 2001-08 (the Cypriot parliament). He decided not run for reelection in 2013 and the president who was elected after him was not a communist.

protected by Pieter Geerkens Mar 9 at 15:26

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