My Impressions of Election 2008

Nov 272008

By Saeed Minhas

The occasion was historic, the scene was big and players were dynamic. That’s what is imprinted in my mind after covering the elections for 44th President of the United States of America during my recent visit to the United States under the joint auspices of State Department and International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

The impressions and images of the whole campaign will certainly remain dear to me throughout my life, because it was not just another presidential election, rather it was an election which was closely watched by the entire globe, especially by the Muslim world.

The U.S.-Jihadist war was entering its sixth year; Americans had lots of casualties during these years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan; hopes of a calming down in Iraq were developing but fears of Iran were on the rise; intermittent drone attacks by U.S. forces were going on inside Pakistan while indications of talks with Taliban leadership were making headlines. And as if this was not enough, we saw the enormous meltdown of the financial markets in September 2008 which brought the entire economic activity of the world to a virtual halt.

With all this in the backdrop, when I was summoned by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to join the call to cover the elections, I felt myself fortunate to become an eyewitness to what the whole world would be watching on their TV sets. The entire media seemed to have frozen all other issues just to highlight the U.S. presidential elections, thus pinning greater than great hopes on the outcome of the elections, assuming but not acknowledging how U.S.-centric this world has become.

Upon arriving in Washington D.C, the first message I came across was hope versus status-quo and then we were bombarded by news and views of media blitz versus candidates’ privacy, scores of polls and pollsters versus political and public entities, battleground states versus in-pocket states, red versus blue, and last but not the least we found out that unlike the British election models, U.S. elections are not held under a single authority of election commission. We had to watch out for 50 states -- 50 elections -- and then we had to understand that it’s not only two candidates vying for the office of the president but the entire 435–member Congress and one-third of Senate seats were up for grabs by both the major parties…. And then every state has its own state legislators, attorneys general, sheriffs, judges and taxation issues, etc., etc.

Though the two days of over-hammering from a variety of speakers at the Foreign Press Center in Washington helped us grab all the above-mentioned details, which at times was repetitive but ultimately worth the effort as the input was undoubtedly equivalent to a full year of an academic course. The next phase was perhaps the epic of this whole effort when I was put in the battleground state of Ohio and was given an attachment with a daily, The Blade in Toledo.

The chance to see the battle on the ground was fascinating, as meeting and watching the allure of Sarah Palin, stateliness of Bill Clinton and nonconformist postures of Barack Obama was an enthralling experience. The hands-on experience of the entire professional team at The Blade helped to make sense of everything happening around us and then an interview with the undoubted icon of the last leg of election campaign, Joe the Plumber, was simply superb.

The reports for home-publications Daily Aajkal and Daily Times, calls from home-based TV channels, writing blogs for the world, ICFJ, ground reports, appearances at CNN, the BBC World and of course travelling and transits were what consumed my 17-day sojourn.

[I must express thanks to ICFJ and the entire team of the State Department who envisioned and funded the program] for providing me and many others a lifetime opportunity to observe and record this historic occasion.

The writer is resident editor of Aakjal in Islamabad, Pakistan.