Democratic Lesson to Third World Nations
By Abdulla Mohammed Juma
As one of the thousands of journalists who witnessed the last days of the strong campaign in U.S. and the voting process in this year’s U.S. election, I have experienced and learned so many important things about building a democratic society.
People participated fully in the whole election process, from registration to the voting day, but many people told me this is new to U.S. politics and that it resulted from the excitement this election provided to the American people.
From my interviews with different people in Washington and New Hampshire, I found that the interest of the American people in the election began as far back as 2007, when they were fully involved in the primary elections where the political parties choose their candidates.
I discovered that the people were ready to assist in the whole election process through volunteering, and that some of them quit their jobs and some took leave without pay. I was really impressed by this level of patriotism and wished we could be the same at home in Tanzania.
I was also impressed with way people came out to express their views on candidates and issues concerning their country, using different media -- from television, radio, Internet to other mass media without being interfered with or troubled by those who oppose their views. It is a pretty high level of freedom of expression.
Even if there are people who are supporting political parties, I discovered that U.S. citizens put their country first. From the interviews I had with them outside the voting stations in New Hampshire, it seems many Republicans did not vote for Senator John McCain [the Republican candidate] in the presidential election, and instead they voted for Senator Barack Obama of the Democratic Party.
Their major reason was that they trusted him to help the nation from the existing economic, social and international problems, including war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, I discovered the same about the Democratic Party supporters who didn’t vote for Obama, because they considered him premature and inexperienced for such a big and important post.
The existing of neutral or nonpartisan groups of people is among the important thing for development of democracy… The major contestants, Senator Obama and Senator McCain and their political parties, recognized the existence of neutral people and used their prime time to reach this group of voters in the so-called battleground states. I was told, and discovered myself, that they are the ones who decide the fate of candidates.
I was very impressed with the way respect for others’ right of expression is recognized in U.S. politics, where by surprise I found Senator Obama’s supporters with their aggressive signs at a McCain rally at Peterborough campaigning on the last Saturday before election day.
I really expected to see fighting that day because that’s what we have in my country. It is impossible for opposition supporters to appear openly with signs at a campaign rally of their opponent, and even police will not rescue you if anything happens, because it is considered that you asked for trouble.
When I was invited to talk with social studies students at Keene State College in New Hampshire, I found that many people in the U.S., particularly the younger generation, don’t know about the politics of other countries but they are eager to know….
Even though I was informed that this election’s high turn out was caused by the peculiarity of this election, still to me it was impressive, because it was not easy to stand in a queue for a long time and take off from work. In my country election day is always on the weekend, which is more convenient, but the U.S. turnout is evidence to me that today’s Americans are more politically mature.
Another thing which impressed me was to see that Americans are changing for the better, by building their future while burying their past. I saw that there was no room for racism in the election.
I found white Americans supporting the black candidate, Senator Barack Obama, in New Hampshire, where the majority of residents are white, and in other white dominated states where they elected Obama for President but Republicans to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Campaigns were conducted freely and openly all over the country … without interference from individual people, groups of people or institutions. The voting took place freely, fairly and in a safe environment, with no one hurt or denied the right to vote.
The loser, Senator John McCain, conceded right away, a thing which is better for the development of the country and calming for the supporters of those who lose. This would never happen in my country, where five years after the last election, the government in power is still fighting with their opposition instead of providing development to the people.
I am impressed with post-election and transition period. Instead of being the hardest time, because the ruling party is getting out of the office, the outgoing President, George Bush of Republican Party, invited President-elect Obama of Democratic Party and gave him an induction on how to work in the White House. This is a good gesture to the American public to join their hands when the election is over, regardless to who wins or loses.
On media coverage, at the Keene Sentinel newspaper in New Hampshire where I was working, I found that journalists are enjoying full freedom…
Media in U.S. provide a large picture of the candidates to the public, and also report openly the strengths and weaknesses of candidates and political parties. They provide room for each contesting side to speak individually and in public debates, where the people through the media get a chance to ask them questions on issues they think important.
One thing I discovered is that the U.S. election is a world election, not only because the whole world was excited and following it closely, but because what is decided by the American government in one way or another has an impact on the rest of the world. The world can also learn from the democratic and good governance aspects of the U.S. election.
The writer is editor of Zanzibar Leo (Zanzibar Today) in Tanzania.