How do other democratic countries choose leaders?

How do other democratic countries choose leaders?

The way the United States will formally choose its president on Monday contrasts starkly with the way most of the world’s democracies choose leaders.

In other democratic countries, heads of government are elected either directly by the electorate or through a parliamentary system in which the party that wins the most seats in the National Assembly chooses the head of state.

Some processes are complex and complex, others are more straightforward. Here’s a look at how some of these countries chose their leaders – and how complications might arise.

South Africa

In South Africa, which held its first all-ethnic elections in 1994, citizens vote for political parties rather than candidates. Then the president is chosen in a vote by the National Assembly. The party that won the most seats will be able to elect its leader as president. The African National Congress, the liberation movement that turned into a political party, has dominated politics since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994. However, in 2019, the ANC achieved its weakest victory, winning only 57% of the vote.


In Poland, its democracy was made again in 1989 after the fall of communism across Eastern Europe, and the candidate who received at least 50% of the popular vote became president. If no candidate gets at least 50%, the second round pits the two vote-holders against each other. There was only one winner in the first round, with the re-election of Alexander Kwasniewski, a former communist in 2000, who had transformed himself into a pro-democracy figure. Even Lech Walesa, the famous founder of the Polish anti-communist solidarity movement, needed a second round of voting to become Poland’s first elected president.

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In Spain, the Council of Representatives elects the Prime Minister. The party that wins the most seats but does not reach the majority level must form alliances with other parties to choose the country’s leader. In 1996, this put an embarrassment to the potential prime minister. While counting the votes, the conservative Popular Party led by Jose Maria Aznar believed it had won enough seats to make him prime minister. Supporters, who celebrated outside the party headquarters in Madrid, aimed to chant the ugly chant of Jordi Pujol, a diminutive politician from the autonomous region of Catalonia, where Catalan is spoken. “Pujol, dwarf, speak in Spanish!” Shouted. They had to swallow those words a few hours later when the final results showed that Aznar needed Pujol’s coalition votes to win the easy election as prime minister. The Conservatives ended up modestly wooing Pujol and granting Catalonia greater autonomy.

United kingdom

Voters in the United Kingdom elect a legislator for their local district. Then, the party that wins the most 650 electoral districts overall takes power, and the party leader takes over as prime minister. A coalition government may be formed if no party wins a majority of seats. It is always the winning party that gets the largest share of the popular vote. It is rare for any party to win a majority of the popular vote because several parties compete. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won 44% of the popular vote in the 2019 elections, but they won 80 seats in Parliament, allowing him to remain prime minister.

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Brazil chooses its president through two-round direct elections unless the first-round winner receives more than 50% of the valid vote. Voting is mandatory, resulting in a high turnout, and a good number of spoiled or blank cards. In 2018, the turnout is around 80%. The fine for failing to vote is less than a dollar.

South Korea

The president is directly elected by a one-round popular vote in which the candidate with the most votes wins. A person must be at least 40 years old to be eligible to run. The country’s current president, Moon Jae-in, won a by-election in May 2017, two months after South Korea’s Constitutional Court formally sacked his predecessor, Park Geun-hee, from office over a corruption scandal. She is now serving a prison sentence for abuse of power, bribery and other crimes.


A constitutional amendment in 1994 provided for direct popular elections for the office of president. Previously, the position was held indirectly by the National Assembly, which was controlled by the then ruling Nationalist Party. The 1996 elections were the first time that Taiwan chose its president by popular vote.

New Zealand

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is chosen by other lawmakers and is usually the leader of the party that gets the most votes in an election. Under New Zealand’s proportional voting system, parties are often required to form coalitions to lead a majority in Parliament. Although New Zealand functions as a fully independent democracy, its head of state remains Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. This means that the Prime Minister must be formally approved by the Queen’s representative in New Zealand, the Governor-General.

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Associated Press correspondents Jill Lawless in London; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; David Piller in Rio de Janeiro; Kim Tung Hyun in Seoul, South Korea; Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to writing this story. Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at

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