Some people enter politics with a genuine desire to promote the interests of the people. Others no doubt do so with the goal of furthering their own personal goals. A few enter the political arena with no ambition of achieving power, but throw their hat into the ring as a protest against what they see as a corrupt system.
For the most part politics is a serious business, but over the years it has attracted some unusual candidates. This list looks at 10 of the most notable… or downright strange.
10. John Hagelin
Politics is a difficult business. The world is full of thorny issues and complex problems to which there are no easy solutions. However, John Hagelin, who was the most prominent member of the Natural Law Party, might well disagree.
Founded in 1992, the Natural Law Party maintains that all of society’s ills can be cured, or at least alleviated, through the wonders of transcendental meditation. In its most visually striking form this involves a meditation technique called yogic flying, which to the uninitiated looks suspiciously like bouncing.
In the summer of 1993 Hagelin summoned 4,000 meditators to Washington DC, where they concentrated their powers on reducing the crime rate in the surrounding area. The timing was unfortunate, as a vicious gang dispute saw the weekly murder rate hit a record high. Hagelin nonetheless claimed victory and announced that violent crime had indeed been reduced by 18%. However, there is room for a hint of skepticism, since the reduction was based only on what Hagelin believed the crime levels would have been had his team not been present.
At the peak of its influence the Natural Law Party operated in around seventy countries across the world, but it never come close to attaining power in any one of them. Hagelin himself ran for the office of US President in 1992, 1996, and 2000, on the last occasion losing out to the eventual winner by more than 50 million votes.
9. Pigasus the Immortal
By the mid-1960s the United States of America had become mired in a seemingly unwinnable war in Vietnam. With protests and riots breaking out across the country, domestic budgets cut, and thousands of unwilling American boys being sent to fight and die in a country far from home, President Lyndon Johnson’s popularity plummeted.
When Johnson announced he did not intend to stand for re-election, the field was thrown open for contenders for the nation’s top job. In amongst the more predictable pretenders, a new political animal emerged.
In August 1968 the Youth International Party, informally known as the Yippies, announced that their candidate for the presidency would be a 145-pound male pig named Piagsus the Immortal. He would run under the slogan: “They nominate a president and he eats the people; we nominate a president and the people eat him.”
Whether it was a lack of political acumen or just plain bad luck, Pigasus was not destined for a long or successful political career. His first public appearance came at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he was promptly seized by police. Pigasus’s failure to obtain the secret service protection afforded to the other candidates had come back to bite him.
The Chicago Police reported that Pigasus the Immortal was released without charge. He is said to have lived out the remainder of his life peacefully at a farm in Illinois. Darker, although unsubstantiated rumors, suggest that he may have been killed and eaten in custody.
8. Screaming Lord Sutch
The British political landscape has for decades been dominated by the big beasts of the Conservative and Labour parties. However, there is still room for the occasional eccentric outsider. The most famous of these was a rock musician named David Sutch, later legally renamed Screaming Lord Sutch, who founded the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983.
The Monster Raving Loonies were not the first party the Screaming Lord had founded, but they became by far the best known. Sutch never enjoyed a huge amount of political success, which is perhaps not surprising given that the Raving Loonies proposed policies such as fitting vehicles with bungee ropes to save money on return journeys. He did, however, become a record breaker by standing for election on no less than forty separate occasions – losing every time at a not inconsiderable financial cost.
Screaming Lord Sutch enjoyed playing the clown, but in 1999 he committed suicide and it emerged that he had been battling severe depression for years. The Monster Raving Loony Party still exists, now led by Howling Laud Hope, who for some years shared leadership duties with his pet cat. It was, not surprisingly, the only cat to have ever led a British political party.
The Monster Raving Loonies always were willfully silly, but they offered the possibility of a protest vote for those who couldn’t find much to like about any of the major parties.
7. Cacareco the Rhinoceros
History has shown that humans have a distinct preference for promoting members of their own species into positions of political power. As a result, animal candidates have been few and far between, and even fewer manage to capture any significant proportion of the popular vote.
One of the few beasts to buck this trend and become an unlikely champion of the people was a female rhinoceros called Cacareco.
Cacareco was a resident at Sao Paulo Zoo when, in 1959, she was unwittingly thrust into the world of politics. A group of students, who suggested it would be better to elect a rhino than an ass, printed and distributed 200,000 ballots backing Caceroco in the local mayoral elections.
Not only did the beast defeat her human opponents, she utterly crushed them in one of the most convincing victories ever seen in Brazilian politics. Cacareco, however, was robbed of her victory. Embarrassed officials declared her ballots to be null and void, and a new election was held the following week, this time without the rhinoceros. With Cacareco’s considerable bulk no longer blocking the way, a human candidate triumphed.
6. Zoltan Istvan
It isn’t unusual for politicians to make extravagant claims in an attempt to boost their chances of being elected. Few have ever been quite so ambitious in their goals as Zoltan Istvan, who stood as an independent candidate in the 2016 US Presidential campaign. His promise to the American people was that he would attempt to make them immortal.
Having narrowly escaped death when he nearly stood on a landmine in Vietnam, he devoted his life to the quest for immortality. Unlike many of the other entries on this list, Istvan didn’t stand for election as a joke, protest, or as a satirical candidate.
In 2014 Istvan founded the Transhumanist Party, which champions the idea that humans should enhance their abilities and prolong their lifespan through the use of technology. The conclusion would be humanity transformed into a race of post-human cyborgs.
This is by no means Istvan’s only controversial idea. Even while he ran for president himself, he argued that the ideal solution would be for the nation’s affairs to be dictated by an advanced form of artificial intelligence. Istvan accepted that dictatorship has thus far not proven to be a good way of running a country, but he argued that a benign machine that truly had the best human interests at heart would do a much better job.
5. Dustin the Turkey
It’s not unusual for politicians to be accused of being puppets, whether it be of lobbyists, big business, or special interest groups. In the case of Dustin the Turkey, a strange hybrid of a turkey and a vulture, that description would be literal.
Despite the handicap of being an inanimate object, Dustin has forged a diverse and successful career. Having shot to fame on children’s television in the Republic of Ireland, Dustin entered the race for the 1997 Presidential elections at the head of the newly-formed Poultry Party.
Dustin’s bid for political power was taken in good humor by the Irish people, and people still write his name on their ballot papers as a protest vote.
Oddly enough, it was the puppet’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest in 2008 that proved to be more controversial. Eurovision is noted for being somewhat kitsch, but plenty of people take it extremely seriously. Ireland has won the competition more times than any other nation, and many felt that Dustin’s entry betrayed the nation’s commitment to Eurovision glory.
Dustin failed to progress beyond the semifinals. He still dabbles in politics and currently serves as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
4. Ilona Staller (Cicciolina)
With a career that spanned Cold War spy, adult film actress, and member of the Italian parliament, there’s never been a politician quite like Ilona Staller.
Better known by her stage name of Cicciolina, Staller was born in Hungary in 1951, behind the Iron Curtain. As a young woman she claims to have been recruited by the secret service, set to work seducing foreign guests at the luxury hotel where she worked to discover their secrets.
On marrying and moving to Italy in the early 1970s she made a name for herself as the first woman to pose naked in public in Italy, and then as the first woman to appear topless on Italian television. Work as an adult actress followed, and Cicciolina continued to star in adult films even after being elected to the Italian parliament with around 20,000 votes in 1987.
To the outrage of some, and the delight of others, Cicciolina had a habit of delivering her speeches whilst semi-naked. In 1991 she even offered to have sex with the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein if he’d withdraw his army from Kuwait and restore peace to the region. It was an offer no other politician was prepared to make, but so far as is known Hussein never responded. Cicciolina later repeated her offer, this time to Osama Bin Laden in return for a promise that he’d give up terrorism. Once again, this unusual approach to diplomacy failed to deliver results.
Cicciolina’s time in office came to an end after just five years when she failed in her bid to be reelected. She maintains that she is proud of her body of work, both as a politician and an adult movie star.
3. Phineas Taylor Barnum
Born into a family of modest means in Connecticut in 1810, PT Barnum’s flair for business and genius for marketing paved the way for him to become one of the richest and most successful men in America.
Celebrated by some as America’s first great showman, and derided by others as a conman, there’s some truth in both positions. Barnum’s business ventures were many and varied, but he was most famous for his museums, circuses, and human freak shows.
We’ve looked in more detail at some of the individuals displayed in Barnum’s freak shows in a previous list. However, Barnum was also more than happy to perpetrate a hoax so long as it made him money. The most famous example was his so-called Feegee mermaid, which was actually just half a monkey and half a fish crudely sewn together. Barnum had no qualms about employing such tactics and insisted the people enjoyed being duped, or “humbugged,” as he preferred to put it.
There may have been an element of humbugging about Barnum’s efforts to be elected as a senator. He campaigned on the issues of prohibition and anti-slavery, and while his dislike of alcohol was in no doubt, his anti-slavery credentials were more questionable. Barnum had himself owned slaves, and his conversion seems to have coincided quite closely with the end of the American Civil War.
Barnum was defeated in his bid to become senator, oddly enough by a distant relative of the same name. Despite his museums burning down on two occasions, he remained active in business and politics until his death in 1891.
2. Darth Vader
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when it broke away and gained its independence. Since then the country has been divided between those who favor a closer relationship with the European Union and those who gravitate towards Russia. As a result, the Ukrainian political scene is messy, fractious, and divisive; more surprisingly it’s positively teeming with characters from a galaxy far, far away.
In 2014 Darth Vader, in full Sith Lord regalia, and having apparently legally changed his name, stood for election as mayor of Odessa. Despite finishing only fourth (yet still proclaiming himself victorious), Vader put himself forward as a candidate for prime minister. In this bizarre campaign he would be assisted by Chewbacca (who was arrested and fined the equivalent of $7.50 for campaigning on voting day itself) and a host of Storm Troopers and Imperial guards.
The true identity of the man (or woman) behind Vader’s mask is still unknown, but it seems they represent the only slightly less mysterious Internet Party, which campaigns to establish what it calls an electronic government in Ukraine.
Having spent a huge amount of money on elaborate costumes, advertising, billboards, and slick campaign videos, questions have been raised over where Vader and the Internet Party are getting their financing from. One conspiracy theory suggests they might be funded by the Russians in an attempt to subvert Ukrainian democracy. Vader insists he is just out to fight corruption and turn Ukraine into a galactic empire. In his downtime the Sith Lord reportedly enjoys walking their dog and indulging a passion for embroidery.
Nobody cares; nobody has all the answers, and nobody is perfect. That’s a pretty impressive resume, and those are just a few of the reasons that have been given for why nobody could be a perfect president for everyone.
The ‘vote nobody’ campaign took off in the runup to the 1976 US Presidential election. The brains behind it were Curtis Spangler, who appointed himself as nobody’s campaign manager, and an eccentric hippie named Hugh Romney, more commonly known as Wavy Gravy.
Wavy Gravy was no stranger to unusual political stunts. He’d been part of the team that brought the world Pigasus the Immortal, and after that he’d campaigned to have a rock elected as President of the United States of America. Nobody was more successful drawing substantial crowds to rallies in Washington, New York, and Austin.
While 1976 turned out to be the highpoint of nobody’s political career, the vote nobody campaign continues to this day. Its goal is to have the option to vote nobody, or none of the above, added to ballot papers.