The peaceful relinquishment of power is something that has been sought after by mankind ever since… since… well ever since humans have held power over each other. We do a damned good job with this in the US, actually, most democratic countries do a nice job. It hasn’t always been so in this world.
Violence: The basest method for picking a head of state (a state of 3 or 3 billion) is, of course, violence. Works great, by the way. I’m not endorsing violence as a good means for the allocation of political power, merely commenting on it’s effectiveness. There can be no ambiguity about who the winner is when all of the other contenders are pushing up daisies. The two most common forms were probably war or single combat. At least with the latter the violence has tended to be isolated too only those vying to rule. Many a king won his crown on the battlefields of history, and there is no reason to think that the same thing won’t happen well into the future.
Heredity: Another extremely common system, however, as even the most limited review of history will show you, women often cause problems for these systems. I think it is safe to assume that much of what women have suffered in the way of oppression, sexual in particular, has it’s roots in hereditary rule, women almost have to face some oppression for hereditary succession to be a stable and peaceful to any degree. The reason is quite logical, when the right to rule is tied to membership in a bloodline, paternity is vastly important. While there are other things that can also upset monarchies, the by far the most common is illegitimacy, be it a bastard or the result of queenly infidelity. It’s hard to challenge or doubt who the mother of a child is, but near enough impossible to prove the father without the ability to test DNA. Of course I have to add another disclaimer here, I’m not trying to justify any kind of oppression, merely pointing out one of the main considerations with this particular system, that sperm, not men, not women, make peace.
(The individual ability, or inability, to lead is a common problem also, but that goes without saying so I didn’t waste my/your time)
Election: Obviously we like this one and it tends to have a peaceful outcome, though not always. I’ll touch on two big issues here, though there are more, as with the above systems. The first is vote tampering. Actually, there doesn’t even need to be any vote tampering for vote tampering to mess everything up. The reason is that the perception of corruption is as bad, if not worse, than there actually being corruption. The very nature of the secret ballot means that ballot manipulation is hard, if not impossible to discover, and just like witchcraft at various times in the past, perception is reality, witches are a very real danger if you perceive them to be so. Voter registration and ID are both valid safeguards, with or without the presence of fraud.
The second is mob rule. When a simple majority is the way a leader is chosen, the liberties of the minority are always at risk. Most often this pops up during times of strife and public outcry. There are certain countermeasures which may be taken, and are. In America, we have the Electoral College, in many other places you have the similar system of the legislature picking the big cheese (UK). In both cases, there is a degree of separation between voters and the choosing of a person to assume command of the government. We also have strong checks and balances in the US, where we have a relatively weak head of state, at least in some regards.
There are others, but those are the big ones. I’m mentioning all of this because we may well see Obama lose his job on Tuesday. If that is the case, we will all proudly watch, without regard to who we voted for, as Mitt Romney is sworn in on January 20th. We will all watch proudly because our rivers will not run red with blood, shots will not ring out, insurrection will not spring up, the sky, it won’t fall. President Obama will be there on the platform, he will shake hands with the now President Romney, he will get into a vehicle, perhaps a helicopter, and he will swing by the White House to make sure he didn’t leave his cell charger plugged into the wall in the Oval Office.
We will all have witnessed a rare event, though most won’t know it, what has been so rare in history has become such commonplace that no one will think it interesting. No paper will report it, no cable or broadcast news anchor will mention it, no Facebook statuses will be changed to declare it. Doubtless the vast majority of those who have held power, and those who have been subject to it, throughout the ages would look on stunned and amazed if they were here.