Rajpal's Column

10th December 2000

America: That was the election that was

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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The yet unresolved contre-temps regarding the US Presidency though it has obviously added some comic relief to world affairs reporting, has still not been seen in perspective.

The problem is that the flaws of the American presidential system have been exposed, because there was an absurdly close call. 

Which is the reason that the system has been brought under the cross hairs in such a fun - filled frenzy.

But, that does not necessarily mean that the American Presidential system has always appeared be above board to all observers. The difference now is that those who were prepared to laugh out of the room, anyone who questioned American politics, are now coming to the realization that the American electoral system is indeed palpably flawed. 

Just after the Bush- Dukkakis election in 1988, a contribution was made by this writer to the Island newspaper, which was half pooh-poohed by the Editors for its critique of the US system of Presidential polls. 

Itís a Herculean job fishing this article out from the Upali archives, but the gist of the piece was that the American electoral system is somewhat quaint, and does not necessarily do justice to vox populi, or the voice of the people. 

At this moment, most post poll observers have got their eyes screwed on the electoral college and these processes, which seem to be esoteric to we humble developing - country democrats who repose our faith in that simple institution called the popular vote.

It is the electoral college that somehow seems to have made absurd theater out of the American polls.

But, in the article referred to above, certain references are made to the archaic system of primaries that lead to a choice of Presidential candidates. 

The primary process is not quite palatable by our humble and unsophisticated democratic standards either. 

The primaries involve the process of selecting the two candidates who will stand for election, and who will stand a chance for election, given the fact that only Republicans and Democrats will stand any chance of election in the two party system that obtains in the US. ( No problem there, we have two parties and the US has two parties too...)

The process of primaries is a circus of free spending, and all the lobbying that goes with this kind of political campaigning. Internal party democracy in choosing Presidential candidates is ostensibly replaced by a process of primaries in which delegates are elected in each state. These delegates cast their vote eventually for a candidate that will eventually represent the party at the Presidential poll in November.

But, this system essentially gives the elector a choice between two candidates, who are chosen by a questionable and esoteric process that involves political horse trading and obscene political lobbying, in which interest groups spend millions on getting their preferred candidate on the presidential ballot.

Though it could be argued that most nations have two or three major Presidential candidates who are chosen by certain political parties, the process of choosing a political candidate by a party can be said to be more democratic, as it at least involves party democracy in the choice. 

But, what delegates do at primaries, is something that does not seem to involve in any way, even in a representative way, the larger American electorate.

Of course this argument against the American method of primary elections can be pooh-poohed, in a similar fashion that any questioning of the American electoral process was questioned before the Gore- Bush collision that led to the current ungainly mishap. 

One thing that was certain before this particular toss up was that election malpractice occurred in America. Almost everybody knows that John Kennedyís father bought the election somewhere in the 60ís, and got the ballot rigged in certain states so that his young son could score a narrow win over an experienced Senator called Nixon. 

But, the gore- Bush election has showed that the American Presidential face-off is acrimonious, but more importantly, that it does not necessarily reflect in the final analysis, the will of the American people. ( This of course for the simple reason that the winner of the popular vote is not elected President.)

The US and its allies have often maintained that most developing country governments are not legitimate as they do not, for some reason, reflected the popular will of the people. Rigged or manipulated elections have often been shown as the cause.

Though rigged elections are a reality in some developing country situations, at least a rigged election does not compare all that badly against an election which does not seek to represent the popular will of the people. Such as the last American Presidential vote.

After all, the argument even now is about who won Florida, and not about who won the popular vote. In America, they give the Presidency sometimes decidedly to the second best. 

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