12 November 2012

Zimbabwe: U.S. Election Ignites Desire for Progress

editorial

Americans are ordinary people like all of us but, unlike us, they have created a political system that works; this is highlighted in the way they choose their presidents.

The process can be hugely flawed, but it works, that makes all the difference.

The Americans themselves acknowledge these flaws and talk about them; the re-elected President Barack Obama mentioned them in his triumphant re-entry.

They range from the mundane issues of spending hours on end in queues, to the important question of ballot security and manipulation. The election campaigns are fierce and lots of bad language is used. In this election alone, more than US$2 billion was spent in advertising, most of it replete with negative language.

In his re-election speech Obama said: "Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

"That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."

The United States of America comprises 50 states plus the District of Columbia, we all know that. But what we may not have known is that on Tuesday, November 6, there were 51 presidential elections in the US!

On every presidential Election Day in America, 51 dissimilar elections are held to choose one president. Even the Americans themselves know there must be something wrong with this. In Chicago I saw a ballot paper that was about half a metre long, every voter, I think, was making about 20 choices.

They were not only electing the president, but other officials including senators as well. It takes quite some level of cognitive development to be able to work through such a ballot paper. It wouldn't work in Zimbabwe and I doubt it works in America. In one polling station I saw quite a few elderly African-American voters struggling to complete it. Often they just gave up three steps down.

Then there are the contentious questions of the early vote and the provisional vote. How these are cast varies from state to state and they can be open to manipulation.

For example, the early vote has been seen to be very important for both the Democrats and the Republicans but governors of different states determine how these are cast and counted to suit their own interests. The time for casting these ballots has in the past been altered to suit certain interests and the security of the ballots has also often been compromised.

Early voting days differ from state to state; in some they can be done up to 35 days ahead of Election Day while other states allow them only within 10 days. Provisional votes will be counted up to 10 days after the election.

That means provisional votes are still to be counted for last week's election and, interestingly, they can only be counted if the result in the state is inconclusive and if they are bigger than the margin of error.

But is this some kind of disenfranchisement? These are issues vexing the minds of US professors and all those interested in US politics.

Be that as it may, the electoral process works and when the results are announced, everyone accepts them.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning America came to a standstill waiting for losing candidate Mitt Romney to deliver his concession speech. His delay in doing so was deemed un-American and everyone was worried.

Many Zimbabweans ask what difference Obama's elections would make for Zimbabwe? The truth of the matter is that it won't make any difference and, in my opinion, it shouldn't. The difference should be made in Zimbabwe and in Africa itself, any other way would be to tell the world how weak we are as a nation.

Obama's first four years in office were not a stroll in the park. He inherited a very bad America and promised the American people a quick turnaround in their fortune.

To a large extent, he didn't deliver although there is evidence the graph was beginning to turn northward. Americans didn't care he inherited a comatose economy; all they cared for was the fulfilment of the promise. Obama got quite a little bit of a hammering on this; hence the election was so closely contested.

In his second and last term, he has his work cut out for him. His first priority obviously is to continue to lead the recovery and that means he will look inward first before he looks out to Africa or anywhere else for that matter. And that might take four years!

Zimbabweans can derive one or two lessons from last week's election, not least of which is the importance of taking a very close look at the candidates.

According to a colleague who lives in the US, Americans had a choice between a president who believed in peace and diplomacy and one who believed in America as a military policeman of the world. The latter failed to read the war-weariness of the American people and set a belligerent tone.

The people rejected him. Zimbabweans are also faced with a choice between conservatism and progress.

It is important to demand that politicians come face-to-face with the nation and with each other to argue on the path along which they intend to take the country.

Zimbabwe is suffering from a certain kind of weariness born out the political and economic crises that have gripped it for more than a decade. Any election that comes should take cognisance of this.

Politicians should realise that Zimbabweans now, more than ever before, want the country to move forward. The presidential election in America has reinvigorated Zimbabweans' desire for progress.

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