Election a chance to evaluate US democracy

By Shen Dingli Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/18 21:18:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US general election is in full swing, and the two presidential candidates' TV debates have aroused the interest of the public. The election process for the single superpower seems to be transparent and fair, but in fact it is not. Some misunderstandings should be clarified.

The first misunderstanding is that the US president is elected under the principle "one man, one vote," the basis for the election's legitimacy. But in the previous elections, there were a large number of voters who abstained from voting and, therefore, "one man, one vote" only includes those who go out to vote. Besides, the US electoral college system takes the winner-take-all ballot counting method in each state. That is to say, the presidential candidate who gets more than half of the votes will obtain the state's total electoral votes. Finally, the number of electoral votes determines who will be the US president. This means the minority of votes is fully superseded by the majority of votes, and the minority's opinion is also silenced.

In the 2000 presidential election, the majority of voters supported Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate. But he was defeated by the Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. In fact, there was a serious dispute about whether Bush really got a key victory in the state of Florida. The US Supreme Court later judged that Bush won, with a split 5-4 result, which was not convincing. Even this so-called democracy of "one man, one vote" is also likely to be hijacked and gamed. The US presidential election results do represent public opinion, but certainly not all public opinion, and not even a true majority of the people.

The second misunderstanding is that the two parties' primary elections reflected fairness and justness. However, this is far from the truth. At the primary election stage, the Democratic National Committee, an institution which should be neutral, had already "internally appointed" Hillary Clinton as the presidential candidate. According to WikiLeaks, the committee cooperated with different media, trying to discredit and repress another candidate, Bernie Sanders, so as to support the Clinton campaign.

In addition, the superdelegates in the Democratic Party do not represent the majority of the party's voters, making the Democratic primaries deviate more from the principle of fairness. People will wonder whether the Democratic Party darkly rigs the election to fool the US people.

The third misunderstanding is that the TV debates of the US presidential candidates contribute to improving voters' understanding of the contenders. However, in this year's debates, candidates did not focus on their policies, but were interested in mutual recrimination with surprisingly coarse words. TV debates should strive to help people select the best policies, but the debates of this election have become no more than an ugly sideshow.

Indeed, a series of issues like the emailgate scandal, Clinton's health problems, the Benghazi attack and the Clinton Foundation have seriously undermined Clinton's credibility. But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has more troubles. He has made extreme proposals, but offered no constructive policy agenda. Besides, he humiliated the military, and showed contempt for Muslims and women, which seriously damaged the seriousness of the US general election.

For a long time, many Americans regarded US democracy as the gold standard. But more and more Americans feel shame about this kind of democracy, and this year's election. The US will have a new president, but this doesn't mean that most people love this president. It just means the public's aversion toward the other candidate is stronger. Chinese people can evaluate the US system of democracy when watching its general election.

The author is deputy dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion



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