The American example

The presidential election that ended yesterday would not be claimed by most Americans as a shining example of American democracy, after 36 tortuous days of re- counting votes and legal wrangling in Florida’s courts, ending in the US Supreme Court itself. Yet, there is the possibility that on hindsight Americans would be proud of the way it finally ended. The gracious speech of outgoing Vice President Al Gore, congratulating President-elect George Bush and urging the nation to rally behind the president-elect, displayed the fine refinements of American democracy.

Speeches of defeated candidates usually carry the call to rally round the country and the president-elect but the appeal of Al Gore was of particular significance in that he was not conceding defeat. He had out-polled Bush by as much as 300,000 votes nation-wide and firmly believed that he had won the state of Florida which Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision made it go to Bush.

" I strongly disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Tuesday to prevent a count of the disputed ballots but, I accept it,’’ he said. To accept losing the most powerful office in the world by a few hundred votes – and that which he believed he had won – after coveting this office for long years, would have been no easy task. But the rules of the games were clear. Gore accepted the decision of the Supreme Court. This was a shining moment for American democracy. Gore’s speech rescued the American constitutional procedure from the trying and embarrassing times it had been through for 36 days.

President Bush’s speech too was well measured for the occasion. He accepted Gore’s offer to meet as soon as possible to heal the divisions of the election campaign. As commentators noted, his was not a victory speech. He did not crow about a victory. It was a restrained delivery calling for bipartisan consensus and bringing together the nation, which had been divided by the hard fought presidential election campaigns. President Bush, the Texas Governor, is already a proven practitioner of bipartisan politics having to deal with the Texas legislature where his Republican Party does not command a majority. He will undoubtedly need bipartisan consensus very much when in the White House because both the US Congress and Senate are almost evenly divided. If the two sides decide to lock horns, governance will prove to be an extremely formidable task and even impossible.

American commentators were speculating yesterday whether George Bush as president will have a ‘honeymoon’ with the democrats and if so for how long. Many of them agreed that consensus was essential for the American nation right now and the American people were not happy with the confrontational politics that has been on in Washington for sometime. Indeed it is very likely that the ‘honeymoon’ will taper off with time and end much before the next presidential election campaigns kick off. But by then, the divisive wounds that the nation suffered would have healed to a great extent.

This mature demonstration of democracy at work is an example to Third World counties like Sri Lanka. Firstly, in a democracy the basic fact that every vote counts has not only to be accepted but every effort be made to put it into practice. That is what the 36-day ordeal in Florida was all about. It could be said that this principle was negated by the US Supreme Court decision but once the final arbiter pronounced the verdict, it has to be accepted in the interests of the nation. If not anarchy would have been inevitable. Yesterday’s events also showed that when the final decision is made, politics must take a backseat and the nation’s interest comes to the fore.

Al Gore’s last words were also being of much relevance to leaders in our part of the world. He ended saying: ‘And now my friends, it is time for me to go’. This is another example to Third World leaders who don’t know when it is time to go. They hang on to power until they are thrown out or assassinated.

American democracy, however, is not simon-pure. It has its blemishes and warts. But there are features that can be emulated by younger democracies such as consensus politics. With most countries of South Asia having coalition governments, this example of consensus politics would do much good not only for the countries, but the parties and their leaders.

We end our comments with a question for our readers to ponder on: If consensus politics came into play immediately after the last general elections—as suggested by us in a front page editorial—would our political and economic problems have been as great?

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