ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY

We can and must always learn from elections

Despite its rancor and division, America continues to inspire many across the world.

In Summary

• Contest for political power through the ballot must not breed or solidify hatred and violence.

• One would expect that election outcomes become moments of introspection, when peoples and citizens commit to the task of building an even stronger union

US President Donald Trump and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden.
US President Donald Trump and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Image: REUTERS

“Imagine losing to him?” Donald Trump does not have to imagine losing to Joe Biden anymore.

After a historic election, Biden, the 47th vice president, will be the 46th US President.

This election, like previous ones, was acrimonious and divisive. Global issues such as climate change, sustainable development, the Covid-19 pandemic, the Iran nuclear threat and trade were trumped by America’s incandescent culture wars over science, guns, abortion, LGBTQ rights, race immigrants and religion. The record-breaking voter turnout estimated to exceed 144 million was fuelled for the most part by historical, perennial division and mutual fear.

 

Polarisation around liberal versus conservative or left versus right issues has tended to appeal not to the better angels but to the dark impulses of ordinary Americans. There is no doubt that there is an active proliferation of extremist groups, even if fringe.

In 2008 then President-elect Obama declared that America was not just a collection of red states and blue states. In his victory speech, President-elect Biden pledged to be an American president and called this the time to heal.

Clearly, the passion for their parties have strained and broken the bonds of affection among Americans. Trump's claims on Twitter that he won the election by a lot and that mail-in ballots were a hoax undermines the process of democracy and denigrates public institutions. By refusing to accept the results, continuing to allege vote fraud and lawyering up for legal challenge, President Trump is fanning flames of deep division and even violence.

The rancor and division such as we seeing in US is not unique. Here in Kenya, we witnessed barbaric violence following the disputed elections in 2007. The dark angels prevailed. More than 1,000 Kenyans lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes. Some have never returned. Contest for political power through the ballot must not breed or solidify hatred and violence. One would expect that election outcomes become moments of introspection, when peoples and citizens commit to the task of building an even stronger union.

Kenya has had its moments of post-election introspection. After 2007 we came together to pass a new constitution. When we stepped to the edge of the precipice in 2018, the Building Bridges Initiative was birthed. So, elections can provide teachable moments, cause citizens to try, even if they don’t succeed, to grapple with rifts of division.

Despite its rancor and division, America continues to inspire many across the world. Twelve years after a skinny kid with a funny name took a most solemn oath, the daughter of Indian mother and a Jamaican father will be the 49th and first woman vice president of America. Across the world citizens were galvanised by the bestiality of the police who murdered George Floyd. Black Lives Matter has become the rallying call for equal treatment and racial justice across the world; from local work places to the United Nations.

Will America’s better angels prevail at this inflection point?

 

Alex O. Awiti is Vice provost at Aga Khan University. Views expressed are the writer’s