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Politics – Welcoming Jules, rooting for Obama

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It is not very often these days that one gets an opportunity to make a positive comment about political developments, whether locally or globally. So it gives me pleasure to welcome the announcement that Dr Jules Ferdinand is to officially enter the political arena, as a candidate for the opposition New Democratic Party in the next general elections, constitutionally due by late 2015.{{more}} Dr Ferdinand is eminently qualified to put himself forward, by virtue of his impressive academic achievements and business career as well as, for me, the most important prerequisite, his “people” connections. The fact that Jules will be contesting the West St George constituency against another “people” person, the incumbent Ces McKie, makes for at least one enthralling battle in the next elections.

Dr Ferdinand enters the fray on the side of the NDP, when a presence like his is badly needed in their fold. I do not need here to repeat my expressed disappointment on the politics of the Opposition, so I can only hope that Dr Ferdinand’s presence will bring temperance and sobriety in the conduct of public affairs and a greater sense of focus. While I do not subscribe to the policy of using the senatorial positions in Parliament to reward political devotees or to promote aspiring candidates, it is clearly a policy to which both parliamentary parties subscribe. In those circumstances, it is certainly not a bad idea to immediately put him in the forefront, by appointing him a Senator on the Opposition benches. His stature and oratorical skills can only redound to the benefit of the NDP.

One can only hope that this is a sign of more positive developments to follow in the political field. Too many of us, for one reason or another, are prepared to shy away from taking the final plunge. As a result we have had a swathe of mediocre and less so parliamentary representatives over the years. Jules’ addition to the NDP slate will do well for its image; how he will handle the rough and tumble is left to be seen. Will he help to lift them up, or, be dragged into the political quagmire? I wish him all the best.

At the same time, the governing ULP can certainly do with a facelift and rejuvenation. In spite of its impressive achievements in office, there is a certain amount of “staleness” associated with it, leaving it more and more dependent on its leader, for good or bad. One hopes that bold step on the part of the NDP is a move in a positive direction, and that it can spur the ULP to rise to similar heights, at least in the calibre of its candidates.

OBAMA STUGGLING TO HOLD ON

Election fever is at its height in the USA, where the likeable Barack Obama is fighting hard to beat back the right-wing challenge of Mitt Romney and his “Tea Party” crowd. Obama was swept to the Presidency in 2008 on a wave of emotion and concern for what the Bush years had done to that mighty country. However the stark power realities of American politics, the deep, on-going economic and financial crisis, and his own lack of firmness in some circumstances, has seen his support rapidly weakened, to the extent that all observers are calling it a close race. It would have been difficult to imagine in January 2009, the charismatic, visionary Obama facing a challenge from the bland, anti-people Romney. Such are the vicissitudes of politics.

Those vicissitudes can come into play in a variety of weird ways today. Indeed, if one has been following US Presidential elections in the 21st century, there has been no shortage of controversy. So, the outcome of today’s vote may very well not be settled by tomorrow. It happened before, in 2000, in an election which many still allege to have been stolen, and with the insistence of some Republican-led states of trying to restrict voting by Blacks and other minorities, under the cover of all kinds of registration laws, who knows what may happen?

It is important for us to understand that the US system is not as straightforward as ours. While the main election is for the President, it is a College of Electors which decides the outcome. In the College, there are 538 votes divided between the various states, so it does not automatically mean that the candidate polling the most votes will become President. That all depends on the number of votes garnered in the states which have the highest number of electors. Since the outcome is generally pre-determined in most states, which are traditionally Democrat or Republican, the votes in so-called “swing states” are very crucial to the outcome.

What is clear, is that there will be no landslide. The biggest margin of victory in the 21st century was Obama’s in 2008, when he won 53% of the popular vote, took 28 of the 50 states and gained 365 of the votes in the Electoral College. Four years before, had Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry got 60,000 more votes in the key “swing-state” of Ohio, he would have beaten George Bush. Bush himself only got the Presidency in 2000 by taking Florida, where his brother was Governor, controversially by 537 votes and by a mere 4 votes in the Electoral College. Al Gore won the popular vote by a margin of 544,000.

So, it is not only us who can have puzzling results. Just take a look at some possible scenarios which I came across in the INDEPENDENT newspaper (UK) two Sunday’s ago.

(a) A candidate can win the popular vote, like Gore in 2000, but lose in the Electoral College. This is possible if the Republicans poll the majority but Obama wins in key “swing states” like Ohio and Florida.

(b) The outcome of the election may end up in Court because of controversies around restricted voting.

(c) One candidate can win the popular vote but the Electoral College ends up evenly-divided, 269 each. In that case the House of Representatives will decide. Here each state will have one vote, but it is possible that, say the Democrats have an overall majority, by bigger margins in particular states, but the Republicans can have a slight majority in the number of seats. In that case Obama would have been twice denied, even though a popular vote winner.

(d) Finally, say in the case of the tie mentioned in (c), it is the Senate which will choose the Vice-President. Could you imagine that Romney, having gained the Presidency as in (c), the Senate with a Democratic majority elects Joe Biden as his Vice-President? A Romney/Biden Presidency!

Let’s wait for tonight, hoping that Obama is returned and avoiding these political nightmares.
 
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.
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