Fri, 29 Dec 2000

The American election

Karim Raslan is entitled to his opinion on the American election process, but his narrow-minded anti-American rant masquerading as balanced informed opinion must have stretched even your editorial judgment (American presidential election in the eyes of a Malaysian, Dec. 16, 2000).

After half a century of dictatorship, Indonesia took to the streets to voice their demands for fair and equitable treatment. A number of factional groups headed by politicians more used to personal power based on presidential cronyism and vested interest, were forced to confront the unconfrontable wind of democracy and appoint a president who was tasked to lead Indonesia into a better future for all. These self-seeking politicians will be around for some time and will continue to influence and upset the future of Indonesia.

The eventual success of failure of President Abdurrahman Wahid is something for the Indonesian people to decide in due course. The Americans will be able to repair any flaws in their system and improve the process in time for the next election. I have no idea if the Indonesian people have the same confidence in their ability to do the same.

The contention by Mr. Raslan that the momentous events of two and a half years ago were "not dissimilar" to the election of George W. Bush would be laughable if he wasn't too obviously serious. Much is made of the faults of an electoral college system, but this is the way the American Constitution works, and it comes as no surprise to the people taking part, that they have to win the big states in the college to get to the presidency.

It is not the first time a razor thin majority has caused recounts and appeals to the courts and Congress, and I doubt it will be the last. As usual the Americans will rally round their president, at least externally, and present a united face to the rest of the world leaders.

In countries with a past the post system, it is rarely that any government had such a landslide victory that it could be said to rule by popular mandate. Mr. Raslan should have spent his time looking at the Canadians who went quietly and efficiently about their election while the eyes of the world were on the lawyers in Florida and Washington. It took the Canadians only four hours to hand count every one of about 13 million paper votes and announce a winner. No doubt Mr. Raslan thinks that with only 40 percent of the poll, Jean Chretien has no popular mandate to govern but the Canadians might not agree.

Very few countries in Western Europe, Africa, and the Far East have any business moralizing or ridiculing the workings of the American system. No voters or candidates have been imprisoned, intimidated, beaten up, or murdered, and a peaceful transition is taking place. In this case it seems the eyes of Malaysians in general, and Malaysian lawyers in particular, appear externally jaundiced and more conveniently perhaps, internally blind.