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Lessons from an election

“STOP THE COUNTING!” Donald Trump said in all-caps in his Twitter account.

He had been ranting and raving since the Nov. 3 US elections to stop the counting of the votes and just the day after, unilaterally declared himself the winner for a second term as POTUS — President of the United States of America.

SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the US) will hear of this, he said in a tantrum, as he threatened to file cases of election fraud. The Republican machinery refined Trump’s blind fury, filing legal charges instead in the proper venues of the state courts concerned: to stop ballot counting in Michigan and Pennsylvania, to recount in Wisconsin, and to prevent the counting of absentee ballots in Georgia that it claims arrived after an Election Day deadline.

Nevertheless, the counting continued. “The Supreme Court is more tolerant of state courts’ interpreting their own election laws rather than federal courts,” professors at the Boston University (BU) School of Law said on BU Today. Besides, “none of the votes being counted right now are affected by the lawsuit(s),” the legal experts said. “Count every vote,” the Democrats insisted.

After three tense days of counting after election day, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was just six Electoral College votes shy of the necessary 270 Electoral Votes to be elected president. On the weekend, 504 out of 538 electoral college votes had been called, and Biden won Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, getting a clear win of 290 electoral votes versus Trump’s 214 which included Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Iowa.

Yet it was not all about Trump or Biden. It was about testing democracy in a government of the people, by the people and for the people. For fraud and manipulation of an election disenfranchises all voter-groups by self-serving individuals grabbing the power of choice, the right of the collective majority to make it happen. And for fraud to be insinuated as having been done by the voters themselves would be an unforgivable affront to American integrity, character, and values — even as freedom of expression and belief are sacrosanct in a democracy.

The American people drafted a Constitution, now over two centuries old, to embody the democratic principles to govern themselves and live their lives in peace and prosperity. The first 10 amendments are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Since the Constitution was put into operation on March 4, 1789, only 33 amendments have been proposed by the United States Congress and sent to the states for ratification, 27 of these having been ratified by the requisite number of states, and are part of the Constitution (reference: footnoted WikiSource listings).

The Separation of Powers, a political doctrine embedded in the US Constitution, imposes a strict system of checks and balances among the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial bodies in government to ensure that individual rights are protected under the indispensable rule of law. In the 2020 presidential elections, held in the extremely restrictive COVID-19 pandemic, rights under the Constitution were uncurtailed, and the American people chose their leaders, despite the temerity of a tough-guy President to try and “Stop the counting.”

The Associated Press reported that 18 Senate seats were won by the Republicans in the November 2020 elections, bringing the total number of Republican Senators to 48. Democrats have 14 new seats, bringing the total number of Democratic Senators up to 46. Other parties have two seats. Counting the incumbent (not covered by these elections) 30 Republican Senators and 33 Democrats, there will be a tenuous division in the Senate, with 51 votes needed for a majority.

In the wholly newly elected House of Congress, the Democrats now have 214 seats (close to the 50% +1 majority) compared with the Republicans’ 196 seats.

Partisanship will not be imputed on the Judicial branch of the government. But as of Nov. 4, 2020, the United States Senate has confirmed 220 Article III judges nominated by Trump, including three associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, 53 judges for the United States courts of appeals, 162 judges for the United States district courts, and two judges for the United States Court of International Trade (from US Judiciary listing).

It seems so neatly set up for the rights and freedoms in a democracy, like the world model for all democracies as America is. But history and culture come to bear on the smooth execution and management of a people’s democracy. America, a “Nation of Immigrants” as it is called, was an instant democracy, with its people precisely “escaping” from the tyrannies of autocratic rule in the countries they originally came from. As a test of fire of their firm belief in the equality of persons and peoples, America emancipated the slaves. The 13th Amendment (of Article IV, Section 2) of the US Constitution, passed by the US Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, and ratified Dec. 6, 1865, abolished slavery in America and stressed that all men are equal.

So much for democracy in America. But can the same level of refinement of what can be called a democracy be replicated or at least worked up to, in a small developing country like the Philippines, with its US-style government born just after the Second World War? Have 300 years of colonization by Spain and 50 years under America affected the Filipino psyche such that hierarchical systems and feudal authority figures have diverted the necessary tunnel vision for rights and freedoms — in this high-gear global competition for power and influence?

The recent US elections, when a strong-man President dared to test his power and influence above all, have been closely watched by the Filipino people. Perhaps it is because the presidential and national elections are coming in 2022 — and under the same constraints of the vise-grip of the coronavirus pandemic on the people’s anxieties and energy level. Already, there have been perceived aggressive intrusions on people’s basic rights — like in the critically sensitive and alarming aspects of freedom of speech and of thought. Laws that would have been unpassable in other times, have passed in Congress and the Senate against unsustained protests by rights groups.

There are matters to be learned from the recent US elections: first is the vigilance for the maintenance of a system of checks and balances in government. In the Philippine political milieu, voters have a chance to reinforce the separation of powers by not voting for political dynasties in order to stop the entrenched patronage system that capitalizes on the people’s dependency on powerful individuals who cannot and will not resist the temptations of corruption and rent-seeking. Perhaps it would be good not to vote for a leader with autocratic tendencies. Secondly, voters must insist on the accountability of public officials — voters must review track records of reelectionists, and remember campaign promises on election day, to hold the elected official to account in his term. Voters must not shirk their responsibility to keep watch that rights are not transgressed and the people’s tax money is not stolen by corrupt officials — for the good of all in the democracy.

Votes should never be sold, for money or for reflected power from immoral leaders and officials. Lessons in life, in a democracy.

 

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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