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What we could learn from the US election

8th November 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

The US presidential election is over, and Barack Obama has retained his seat.

The 301 electoral votes won by Obama against 206 for Romney, dramatically upset what had been seen in the polls as a close race to the last minute.

However, that in terms of popular vote, the Tuesday's general election will be remembered for being close, in that Obama toppled his Republican rival by less than a million votes out of 108 million cast.

The US electoral system is touted as the best in the world in terms of its openness in partying and campaign styles. But just like any system, it may not be lacking its own demerits.

Yet there are many lessons that African countries and individual politicians could learn from the polls.

One is that in spite of the gusto, party bickering, corporate like political propaganda and even piquing during the campaigns, after the election and the winner is announced, the loser graciously concedes defeat.

What Africans may learn here is that the loser need not wait to be proded into accepting defeat. Even before Obama spoke, Romney had conceded defeat at his Boston campaign headquarters.

This is what he said: "This is time of great challenges for America, Republicans and Democrats should work together to avoid "partisan bickering and political posturing…, leaders should reach across the aisle to solve the nation's myriad of problems…. We look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics."

This is also the theme that Obama also sees in his agenda as he prepares for his final term. Speaking at his Chicago campaign headquarters after winning the polls, Obama promised to work with leaders of both parties to reduce the deficit, fix tax code and work on immigration reforms.

In fact Obama also said he wanted to meet the former Massachusetts governor to discuss ways to "move the country forward."

These are definitely a major lesson for African leaders. That not every idea from an opponent is discarded, even if vigorously contested during campaigns to gain advantage over an opponent.

We see a difference that whereas many an African politician handed defeat would at this juncture have been plotting to deny the process its logical run, the thoughts of the former rivals are engaged in plotting the way forward for their country.

Saying so does not mean that any tampering with the process, with a view to denying chance of democracy running its full course, should not be contested. Indeed any such actions should be challenged, through the formal mechanisms.

It is also true that there seems to be such a huge gap in the area of transparency, between the way the US elections were being run and those run in most African countries, partly because of logistical bottlenecks. We can start working on minimising these in the interest of enhancing our democracy. When people get to see that nobody is tampering with the process, it strengthens democractic values.

But in our recent memories, we know that it was only in Ghana and in Zambia where such orderly handovers took place, with former president Rupia Banda graciously accepting defeat last year by Michael Satta.

This is democracy. Perhaps we may ask: How many African leaders are ready to do this? We need to actions towards this ideal.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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