About the Interviewees

Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders

Former Presidents 


Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso made his initial professional reputation as a sociologist; his dissertation and first book were on race in Brazil. He soon displayed his political and administrative talents in the governance of the University of São Paulo. Cardoso entered elective politics in the partially free 1978 congressional elections, then played an increasingly important role in Congress as a member of the opposition, and co-founded the Social Democratic Party of Brazil. He served two presidential terms in the period 1995–2003, oversaw market-opening economic reforms and active international diplomacy, and then led a seamless transition to the long-time left and labour leader, Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, elected in 2002, who continued and extended many of Cardoso’s economic and social policies.  


Patricio Aylwin (Chile) 

Patricio Aylwin is a constitutional lawyer and professor of jurisprudence with a long background as a centrist Christian Democratic political leader. He served as president of his party and as a member (and president) of the Chilean Senate before the military took power. He was known for his opposition to socialist President Salvador Allende in the unsuccessful political negotiations that immediately preceded the September 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet and the Chilean armed forces that overthrew Allende’s Popular Unity government. Despite that controversial stance, Aylwin eventually came to play a pivotal role in bridging differences among major elements of the deeply divided opposition to Pinochet. He helped lead the ‘Coalition for the No’, which defeated Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite, thus opening the way for the transition to democratic civilian rule in 1990. He served as president of Chile from 1990 to 1994.  


Ricardo Lagos (Chile) 

Ricardo Lagos was a leader of the student federation at the law school of the University of Chile in the 1960s. Also trained in economics, Lagos developed his career in academia and international organizations, entering politics first in the Radical Party and then in the Socialist Party. Allende nominated him to serve as ambassador to the Soviet Union, a post he never took up because of the 1973 coup. In the post-coup years, living first in the United States and then returning to Chile to work for the United Nations, Lagos became a respected opposition figure, known for his acute analysis. He became known as a Socialist representative in the multiparty National Accord, and was briefly arrested after the assassination attempt on Pinochet in 1986. Lagos served as minister of education and then of public works in the first two Concertación governments, and was elected president in 2000, serving until 2006.  


John Agyekum Kufuor (Ghana) 

John Agyekum Kufuor, a lawyer of royal lineage from Ghana’s majority Ashanti ethnic group, was a minister in the Second Republic government of Kofi Busia (1969–72), an opposition MP in the Third Republic under Hilla Limman (1979–81) and secretary for local government under the PNDC military government of Jerry Rawlings.  Kufuor was a founding member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), which organized to contest democratic elections in the mid-1990s. He led the NPP as a presidential candidate in the 1996 elections, and in the 2000 elections, which he won, marking the first successful transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another since Ghana’s independence in 1957. He was re-elected president in 2004, completed the two terms permitted under the constitution and then turned power over to the newly elected president, John Atta Mills of the UDC, thus deepening Ghana’s liberal democracy.  


Jerry John Rawlings (Ghana) 

Jerry John Rawlings was an air force pilot and flight lieutenant in the Ghanaian armed forces. Together with other junior officers, he overthrew Ghana’s elected government in 1979. Rawlings facilitated new national elections but, highly critical of the then-elected government of Hilla Limman and its alleged protection of elite privileges, overthrew the new regime on 31 December 1981. He ruled as military dictator until 1992, when he agreed to constitutional reform in response to pressure from both Ghanaian civil society organizations and the international community, and threw his support behind competitive multiparty elections. During his first term as elected president (1993–95), Rawlings implemented the establishment of major institutions, and allowed them considerable power. In 2000, Rawlings stepped down after his party’s candidate lost to John Agyekum Kufuor, the opposition leader, thus firmly placing Ghana on the path to liberal democracy.  


B.J. Habibie (Indonesia) 

B. J. Habibie, as a young man, had a close personal relationship with Soeharto, who served as the country’s authoritarian president for 32 years. From 1978 to 1998, Habibie served as minister of state for research and technology, after which he was elected vice-president in 1998. Habibie was a member of the governing Golkar Party. In 1998 Habibie reached the presidency through constitutional succession, endorsed by Parliament, which averted a dangerous power struggle among senior military leaders. Habibie authorized the formation of new political parties, brought forward the date for new national elections by three years, and removed Soeharto family supporters and several military officers from Parliament. Habibie ended his presidency in 1999 after his accountability report was rejected by a close vote in the People’s Consultative Assembly. 


Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) 

Ernesto Zedillo completed undergraduate studies at the National Politechnic Institute in Mexico City and then won a scholarship to Yale University, where he completed a PhD in economics. In the presidential administration of Carlos Salinas de Gotari (1988–94), he served as secretary for budget and planning and then as secretary of education. In an election with the highest turnout in Mexican history, Zedillo was elected president in August 1994. Zedillo set out to help Mexico become a ‘normal democracy’ by proposing reforms to strengthen the judiciary and Congress, separate the government from the PRI and strengthen the independent electoral institutions. On the night of the 2000 election, Zedillo congratulated opposition candidate Vicente Fox as president-elect even before the PRI candidate had conceded.  


Fidel Ramos (The Philippines) 

Fidel Ramos is a professional soldier who exercised senior responsibilities in the armed forces and police during the long dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, his distant cousin, who ruled the country under martial law from 1972–86. He played a role in the Philippine transition, supporting Corazon Aquino and the ‘People’s Power’ movement that rose in protest in 1986 against the increasingly repressive and corrupt Marcos regime. First as chief of staff of the armed forces and then as Aquino’s minister of defence, General Ramos worked behind the scenes to quash several attempted military coups against her. He was elected president in 1992 as Aquino’s designated successor, building broad popular support with development and infrastructure programmes. He also accommodated himself to traditional Filipino patronage politics while respecting the national cultural legitimacy of democratic institutions.  


Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Poland) 

Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a career politician, began as a leader of the communist student organization in Gdansk in 1976. In the last years of communist rule, from 1985 to 1990, Kwasniewski served as a cabinet minister for youth and sports, and then as head of the government’s Social-Political Committee. When the communist party disbanded in 1990, Kwasniewski was a co-founder and chairman of its successor, the Social Democratic Party, and its parliamentary caucus, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Under his leadership, the SLD won the 1993 parliamentary elections. He won parliamentary agreement and popular approval for a new constitution in 1997—with limited presidential powers. He continued the economic transition to capitalism, brought Poland into NATO and the European Union, and won re-election as president in 2000.  


Tadeusz Mazowiecki (Poland) 

Tadeusz Mazowiecki played important roles in Poland’s Catholic opposition from the 1950s until communism ended in 1989, and then as post-war Poland’s first non-communist prime minister. In 1980, Mazowiecki advised Lech Wałęsa during the Gdansk shipyard demonstrations. When General Jaruzelski declared martial law in December 1981, Mazowiecki was interned for many months. In 1989 Mazowiecki became a representative of Solidarity. After the stunning defeat of the communists in the partially free elections of 1989, Mazowiecki was named, on Lech Wałęsa’s recommendation, Poland’s first non-communist prime minister. He oversaw the transition from communist rule to multiparty democracy, the economic reforms necessary for a market economy, the country’s turn to the West and NATO, and the initial reforms of political institutions. Tadeusz Mazowiecki passed away in 2013.  


F. W. de Klerk (South Africa) 

F. W. de Klerk, the son of a prominent Afrikaner political figure, is a lawyer and political leader of the National Party, who served in several different cabinet positions in the 1980s. He was steeped in the Afrikaner commitment to racial apartheid and white parliamentary government. In a February 1990 policy address, de Klerk took the country and the world by surprise, announcing the lifting of the ban on the opposition African National Congress (ANC), the release of Mandela and all other political prisoners, and the beginning of negotiations with Mandela and the ANC. When Mandela and the ANC won national elections and took office in April 1994, de Klerk served for a time as deputy president in a national unity government under Mandela, but then resigned to lead the renamed New National Party in opposition. 


Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) 

Thabo Mbeki, the son of a prominent South African Communist Party and ANC leader, received political and military training in Moscow and continued his studies at the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester. He then participated in 28 years of political activity in exile in London and several African countries, working as chief assistant to ANC president Oliver Tambo. Returning to South Africa shortly after Mandela’s release from prison, Mbeki played a central role in the subsequent negotiation process that led to the 1994 elections won by Mandela. Mbeki served as first deputy president—and in effect, chief operating officer—of the new South African government. Elected president in 1999 and 2004, Mbeki eventually lost some of his national and international stature, in part because of his response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and was forced out of office in 2008.  


Felipe González (Spain)  

Felipe González studied law at Seville University and then at Louvain in Belgium, becoming a labour lawyer and joining the then-illegal Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in 1964. He was elected party leader in 1974 and was briefly detained by Spanish police in 1975. González refused to join the communist-sponsored Junta Democrática and set up a rival Platform for Democratic Convergence instead. González was a member of the Committee of Nine that negotiated the rules for the first free national elections in 1977. As president of the Spanish Government from 1982–96, González consolidated civilian control of the armed forces, negotiated a complex semi-federal system for devolution, and oversaw an ambitious modernizing agenda. González and his party were defeated in 1996, victims of a severe economic downturn and a succession of corruption scandals.  



Women activists in democratic transitions 


Carlota Bustelo (Spain) 

Carlota Bustelo is a Spanish politician and women’s rights activist. She has been a leading figure in the leftist feminist movement in Spain since the 1970s, and was involved in the creation of the Spanish Women’s Liberation Front. In 1974 she joined the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE). From 1977–79 Bustelo was a member of the Cortes constituyentes, the Constituent Assembly that drafted Spain’s new constitution, contributing to the debate on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. In Congress she was a strong advocate of gender quotas and parity in political parties and played a pivotal role in creating the Divorce Act of 1981.  From 1983–88 Bustelo served as the first director-general of the Instituto de la mujer, an autonomous governmental body to promote equal opportunities between women and men. Bustelo was a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  


Pregaluxmi (Pregs) Govender (South Africa) 

Pregs Govender has been deputy chair of the South African Human Rights Commission since 2009, and leads its work on socio-economic rights, CEDAW and the Access to Information Act. A political activist against apartheid since 1974, Govender joined the trade union movement in the 1980s and headed South Africa’s first Workers College. During the country’s transition Govender managed the Women’s National Coalition, which united South African women to ensure that the constitution addressed women’s demands. She also worked in the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) Office, integrating women’s concerns into the RDP. An African National Congress Party member, Govender was elected to Parliament in 1994. She chaired the Parliamentary Committee on Women and initiated the country’s Women’s Budget.  During President Mbeki’s term, she chaired HIV and AIDS public hearings and was the only member of parliament (MP) to register opposition to the arms deal in the 2001 budget vote, before resigning as an MP.  


Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (Indonesia) 

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana is an Indonesian human rights lawyer, former parliamentarian and gender activist. She has worked for 30 years with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on human and women’s rights and environmental issues. She was the first secretary general of the Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy, the first women’s mass organization in Indonesia since 1965.  Katjasungkana is the co-founder of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice, which provides direct legal aid to female victims of violence and discrimination. She is co-founder of the Kartini Network for Women's/Gender Studies in Asia and was a member of the Advisory Board of the National Commission on Human Rights.  She co-founded the Women’s NGO Network to Monitor the Indonesian Government’s Implementation of CEDAW. From 1998–2005, she was a commissioner on the Commission of Violence against Women. She was elected as member of the People’s Consultative Assembly (1999–2009), where she drafted the Domestic Violence Act.  


Sheila Meintjes (South Africa) 

Sheila Meintjes is a South African academic and women’s rights activist. Meintjes has been active in feminist and women’s politics since the 1970s. In the 1980s she was a member of the United Women’s Organization, a mass-based community organization affiliated with the United Democratic Front, one of the most important anti-apartheid organizations.  From 1989 she was a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She was research coordinator for the Women’s National Coalition, which played a significant role in the negotiations that were part of the transition to democracy in South Africa. Meintjes was appointed a commissioner on the Commission on Gender Equality (2001–04).  She led the Commission’s governance programme and was responsible for the Commission in Gauteng Province. She is a professor at Wits University. Her research interests include democracy in multicultural societies, feminist theory and gender politics, and violence and conflict transformation.  


Thenjiwe Mtintso (South Africa) 

Thenjiwe Mtintso is a South African political party leader, former diplomat and a women’s rights defender. Born in Soweto, Mtintso became an activist in the South African Student Organization and Black Consciousness Movement while a student. Due to her political activities, she was expelled from university, detained and tortured by the security services in the 1970s. Mtintso went into exile in 1978, joining the ANC and the Umkhonto weSizwe, where she became a commander. Mtinsto returned to South Africa in 1992 and was appointed to the Transitional Executive Committee. She participated in the CODESA negotiations, and during the first democratic elections in 1994 she was elected an MP. In 1997 she served as the first chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality. In 1998 she was elected deputy secretary general of the ANC. She is a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee and has served as South Africa’s ambassador to Cuba and Italy.  


Adriana Muñoz (Chile) 

Adriana Muñoz is a Chilean politician, sociologist and women’s rights defender. Muñoz joined the Socialist Party of Chile in 1967. Following the 1973 coup, she went into exile in Austria, returning to Chile in 1982. In 1986 she joined the Political Commission of the Socialist Party of Chile and in 1987 she participated in founding the Party for Democracy (PPD). From 1988 to 1990, she was president of the Federation of Socialist Women, and between 1991 and 1992 served as vice president of the PPD. From 1990–94, and again since 1997, Muñoz has served as a deputy on behalf of the PPD in the Chilean Chamber of Deputies. She was the first female president of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile (2002–03). As an advocate for women within the Chamber of Deputies, she has proposed legislation on issues such as divorce, abortion and domestic violence. In November 2013 she was elected to the Senate, the upper house of the National Congress, to represent the region of Coquimbo. Muñoz has also worked as a researcher and participated in numerous projects on gender- related issues.  


Jacqueline Pitanguy (Brazil) 

Jacqueline Pitanguy is a Brazilian academic, policy maker and gender activist. One of Brazil’s best-known feminists, Pitanguy was an opponent of the military junta in Brazil and fought for the democratization of the country, and struggling, at the same time, for women’s rights. Following the return to democratic governance in 1985, Pitanguy worked to ensure the inclusion of issues of concern to women in the new constitution. She was president of the National Council for Women’s Rights, a cabinet position, from 1986–89, where she designed and implemented policies to improve the conditions of women. Pitanguy is a co-executive director of CEPIA (Citizenship, Studies, Information and Action), an NGO that she founded in 1990 that focuses on issues of health, sexual and reproductive rights, violence and access to justice, poverty and employment from a gender perspective.  


Dzodzi Tsikata (Ghana) 

Dzodzi Tsikata is a Ghanaian academic and gender advocate. Tsikata has been active in the Ghanaian women’s movement since the 1980s. She is one of the founding members of the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana, and has been a past convenor of the network and is currently a member of the steering committee. Tsikata is associate professor at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research and former director of the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy at the University of Ghana. Her research interests include gender and livelihoods, gender and development policies and practices, rural and urban livelihood systems, and the politics of land tenure.   


Teresa Valdes (Chile) 

Teresa Valdes is a Chilean sociologist, human rights defender and women’s rights advocate. Valdes was imprisoned by the Pinochet regime for her political activities. Following her release she became a leader in the women’s movement and in 1983 co-founded Mujeres por la Vida (Women for Life), which organized demonstrations against the dictatorship. She was a researcher and professor at the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences in Chile for 25 years, where she was the founder and coordinator of the Gender Studies Area.  Valdes was a senior researcher and member of the Board of Directors at the Center for the Study and Development of Women in Chile.  She is currently the coordinator at the Observatorio de Género y Equidad (Gender Equality Observatory), an independent research and advocacy foundation.