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PARIS — Elections stolen in Iran, disputed in Afghanistan and caricatured in Gabon: Recent ballots in these and many other countries do not so much mark the global advance of democracy as demonstrate the absence of the rule of law.

Of course, elections that lead to illiberal outcomes, and even to despotism, are not a new phenomenon. Adolf Hitler, after all, came to power in Germany in 1933 through a free, fair and competitive election. Moreover, problematic elections constitute a specific challenge for the West, which is simultaneously the bearer of a universal democratic message and the culprit of an imperialist past that undermines that message’s persuasiveness and utility.

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