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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Can CCM and opposition parties learn from US election campaigns?

27th October 2012
Editorial Cartoon

The United States of America, arguably the world’s most democratic and powerful nation, will go to the polls on November 6, this year, in what analysts has termed the most tied-in election.

 During the campaign period, both candidates, incumbent Barack Hussein Obama from the Democrat party, and Mitt Romney of the Republicans, have been competing on policies on economics, social, security and above all foreign affairs.

 In all three presidential debates, each of them has tried to tell voters how he would address the economy, security, social issues and foreign policy. While the incumbent has tried to defend his four-year record by using statistics and credible examples, his opponent has challenged the sitting president – also with facts and figures.

 There hasn’t been any serious verbal attacks, insults, chest-thumping politics, or corruption allegations. To put things in perspective, we’ve not witnessed any cheap politics, which we are used to hearing in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa. Such was the rare commodity in the current US election campaign.

The US election has been about issues or policies; it has also been about national and international issues -- with every candidate trying to convince the voters that he is the right man for the world’s most powerful job.

During the debate, we have seen the power of smart politics surrounded by hundreds of advisers with technical-know-how in various fields contrary to our elections where candidates are surrounded by an ill-informed kitchen cabinet.

 Presidential candidates must have their issues cut out on unfinished business: these items on the agenda aren’t personal; they are national, and well researched before ‘selling’ them to voters. Today, we have people within the ruling party or the opposition people who want to us to give them the presidency, but who are inherently bankrupt of any issues on the national agenda.

We have seen the role of pollsters and their predictions contrary to our situation where, for instance, the opinion polls show that the ruling party is trailing behind the opposition, you can be sure those results could end up rotting in the dustbin. It happened in this country, and everyone was puzzled.

 We have seen how the security forces stay away from politics contrary to our elections where there has been a clear interference of campaigns by the security organs, which mainly favours the ruling party.

We have seen major newspapers and news magazines endorse the candidate of their choice and declaring -- without a flinch -- why they have taken such a decision. In our elections, some media houses acting on behalf of their owners have openly, but blindly, supported the ruling party not because they believe in the party’s policies, but only to seek an insurance ‘cover’ for the next five years.

 Ironically in Tanzania, those media houses that supported the opposition during the election are often considered enemies of the State and, in return, have paid heavy price—including being denied the lucrative chunk of government adverts. Retaliation has been the order after every election period in Tanzania.

 Of course,  the US election also has its ugly side which also gets nasty sometimes, but it does happen after a fair assessment; it’s a model our parties, both ruling and opposition, could adopt for best practice.

It’s in the election system where leaders are tested morally, mentally and physically to assess if they are really fit enough to enter the White House. It’s also in the election where integrity, credibility and ability to lead are highly scrutinised before the voters can make any decision.

 While many may argue that the United States  has reached that level after nearly four hundred years, and therefore argued that countries like Tanzania should also wait for four centuries to arrive at that stage. If your neighbour took five decades get rich, it doesn’t mean that you should also follow the same path; what you could do is to learn from him or her by copying all the good things you could possibly emulate from his wealth or successes.

 But above all, the US doesn’t exist barely on political parties; it’s there for the well-written and jealously guarded constitution; for them, it’s the constitution that has set the level playing field for both players. It’s also their constitution that strongly defends the freedom of expression, which in turn enables their media houses to endorse any candidate of their choice and expect no retaliation from the State.

That’s why we ask today: can the ruling party and opposition learn the modern politics, and from the campaign rallies, of the world’s most powerful nation -- the United States of America?

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