Chancellor Sheev Palpatine took over the Galactic Republic and turned it into an empire by manipulating various factions into starting a war that would allow him to be granted emergency powers. In Stellaris: Federations, I did it by making backroom deals for vast quantities of prepackaged snacks. At no point did I have to get trade federations, Kaminoan cloners, or Christopher Lee involved.
The new expansion adds a Galactic Council to Stellaris, which works kind of like a Space UN. All members can propose and vote on resolutions—everything from environmental protection regulations to removing all ethical oversight from scientific research. Failing to abide by them puts you in breach of Galactic Law, which only gives you an opinion penalty with other council members at first. But over time, the council can pass sanctions that directly punish those who don't abide by their decisions.
Everyone's vote in the council is weighted by various factors like population, economic power, and of course the size of your fleet. No one is ignorant of the fact that an empire which could blow most of the rest of the galaxy into space dust has a bit more influence at the end of the day. If you find yourself outvoted, though, there is a way to tip the scales: buying favors from other empires. Like many newly-introduced mechanics in Paradox games, it turns out this is highly exploitable. So that's exactly what I did.
Each favor grants you additional votes on a specific resolution. Favors can be gained in trade deals just like any other resource, meaning you can buy them with whatever you have lying around. Minerals? Sure. Consumer electronics? Why not? My preferred currency, due to having abducted a psychic space tree that could turn any world I colonized into a pastoral paradise (that's a whole other story), ended up being food. I always had way more of it than I needed, and would often hit the storage cap and be forced to vent thousands of innocent sharp cheddar crackers into space.
With this abundance, my diplomats set to work cutting backroom deals. To the honorable Senator from the planet of the chittering mantis people: if you cosign this bill giving more rights to workers, we will send several industrial cargo freighters packed with pizza bites to your frontier worlds. Representative G'huush, good to see you! I hear your home planet has only one kind of breakfast cereal. We could see about fixing that… for a price.
Before long, everyone was offering up their stake in democracy for my individually-wrapped snack cakes and soft drinks that probably hadn't been contaminated by their proximity to a volatile gas refinery, (we put a warning on the box just in case). I could basically pass whatever resolution I wanted under the threat of cutting off cherry oat bar supplies to billions of beings on hundreds of worlds. The Galactic Council lived on in name only. Underneath the flaky, piping hot surface, I had made it into my own, delicious Galactic Empire.
What to do with this newfound power? Well, I'll have you know I was a benevolent tyrant. First I made sure to outlaw slavery and pass a bill of workers' rights, as well as punishing sanctions to cripple the despotic space nations that refused to follow along. This wasn't entirely an unselfish thing. Economically-liberated aliens buy more ranch-flavored zarble skins, after all. Sure, maybe I snuck in a few provisions here and there to make sure I would never be deposed, like making myself the sole member of the Security Council with a permanent, unilateral veto on everything. But if you don't like it, you can go find your own chocolate dippin' sticks.
And so, many disparate suns rose on a galaxy brought to heel by sweet and salty treats. Where once was war, now there was only crunching. Where once was poverty, now there was only munching. So I looked out across the serenity I had bought, a sleeve of mini-doughnuts in one hand and the very scales of justice in the other. And it was tasty.