Recent Elections have been foremost amid the coronavirus pandemic to attract attention. The most recent buzz revolves around the announcement on August 11th of Senator Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket to challenge the Trump-Pence incumbent Republican team in the USA election on November 3, 2020. This event was an exciting climax to a week which involved a change in Government in the Republic of Guyana and the re-elections of the People’s National Congress in Trinidad and Tobago. In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko in power since 1994 has claimed a landslide victory amid widespread protests and police violence against protesters. The common factors that prevail in these electoral scenarios are essentially responses to the constraints of COVID-19 era which require that special attention given to health security, economic stimuli to rescue flagging economies and focus on reducing rather than increasing inequalities which have been the concerns of our previous two blogs
In Guyana elections are over.. almost: but that’s the easy part (Griffith)
After 5 months of agonizing delays involving litigations in the national and regional courts, Dr. Irfaan Ali of the People’ Progressive Party/Civic with a narrow 33-31 victory over the APNU-AFC, celebrated his inauguration as President of the Republic of Guyana on August 9, 2020. In his inaugural address, he pledged to be ‘President of all the people’. This aspiration is most welcome especially in light of the festering disaffection as a result of a protracted electoral process, and the underlying social and racial cleavages that have underscored continuous acrimony following elections dating back to the early 1960s. These trends have been the subject of many books, commission reports, newspaper columns and contentious debates. They have led to “racial” violence in some instances. In a very perceptive article, Guyana’s elections are over.. almost: but that’s the easy part, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, former University of Guyana Vice Chancellor points out that the key values of good governance revolve around integrity rather than corruption, equity rather than racial triumphalism and transparency rather than kleptocracy, especially with the likely influx of petro-dollars. See link: https://menafn.com/1100605204/Guyanas-elections-are-over-almost-But-thats-the-easy-part
In Trinidad and Tobago where elections were held on August 10, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, Leader of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) has claimed victory with a 22-19 seat majority. However, up to the time of writing this blog the results have not been officially declared because the United National Congress (UNC) opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has challenged the results in three (3) marginal constituencies, so we must await the official declaration. The voter turnout in 2020 at 58% is much lower that the 66% in 2015. This has been attributed to the fact that a relatively high percentage of older voters did not go to the polls, no doubt due to fear of being infected by the coronavirus. But there are also underlying factors that have to await further analysis. Like Guyana, they include the persistence of race as a factor of voting patterns. Unlike Guyana, which has a system of proportional representation, Trinidad and Tobago’s first past the post system can lead to a party winning the popular vote which may not translate into the majority of seats. Given the ethnic demographics of constituencies with either African/Mixed or Indian majorities, election results often revolve around which party can capture the majority of 7-9 marginal seats. In addition, consideration for electoral reform should be given to accommodating postal ballots, especially in circumstances of a pandemic. More immediate, is the need for monitoring and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the aftermath of the elections where it was reported that social distancing was not always adhered to.
In Belarus authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on demonstrators with stun grenades, rubber and real bullets and tear gas after what domestic critics and other countries have called a fraudulent outcome in the August 10 elections. Lukanhesko, who has been in power since 1994, said he received more than 80 percent of the vote. It is interesting to note that Svetlana Tikhanovsky a vibrant opposition leader left Belarus for Lithuania as part of a deal for the release of her campaign manager, Maria Morez who was detained on the eve of the elections. In addition, the complicated and strained relations between Russia and Belarus which receives substantial financial subsidies from Moscow, is being sustained because Russia is wary of the prospects of a pro-Western Revolution in Belarus. Is this a manifestation of Putin’s expansionism in Europe See The Belarus Election and its Aftermath
Kamala Harris and the Biden-Harris Moment
The issues of COVID 19 , race , electoral fraud and Russia which have emerged as endangering the democratic process in varying degrees in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Belarus, resonate in the USA and will test the mettle of the new Democratic leadership.
Kalama on the verge of an historic moment but Challenges Loom
Kamala Harris is the first Asian American and the first Black woman in American history to be a general election candidate for president or vice president for either of the two major political parties. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris , born in India, received her PhD from the University of California, Berkley in nutrition and endocrinology and specialized in breast cancer research. Her father, Donald Harris a University of California Berkley trained Economist and Stanford University Professor was born in Jamaica. Kamala Harris is the second Black person (after Barack Obama) and the fourth woman (after Democrats Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008) to be on a presidential ticket for one of the two major parties. If she and Biden win the November election, she would be the first Asian American, the first woman of any race or ethnicity and the second Black person in U.S. history to be vice president or president. Does this portrait of success by one from immigrant roots inspire voting for the American Dream ?
Overcoming the COVID Factor
While the opinion polls have so far been stable in their projection of a Biden lead over Trump, Presidential debates and the party conventions are yet to occur. And while Biden just named Harris as his running mate, a significant revelation is that in the 24 hour hours after announcing her candidacy, the campaign raised the largest ever amount of US$ 26M in the first 24 hours. Yet there is need to recognize that the campaign is being conducted amid a pandemic the likes of which the United States has not seen in more than 100 years, which is resulting in an unprecedented and volatile economy. The issue is whether the Biden-Harris ticket can overcome the obvious Trump strategy to place impediments in the path of their support from the traditional marginalized groups who will be most affected. A recent study by the Hamilton Project which produces evidence based policy proposals and analysis provides some of the major social determinant which could prevent black and Hispanic voters from turning out to vote. They are most severely affected by weak safety nets, disproportionate health and economic disadvantages, high unemployment, food hardships and hunger, lack of health insurance and disparity in receiving unemployment benefits by nearly 6 weeks after the average unemployed person.
The Race plus Gender Factor
It is no doubt hoped that Kamala Harris on the ticket will catalyze a robust voting infrastructure in black and brown constituencies, motivate black nonvoters and maximize voter turn- out , thereby reversing Hilary Clinton’s dilemma in 2016. Electoral trend analyses show that in 2008 and 2012 when black voter turnout was 65% and 66 % respectively the Obama- Biden Democratic ticket won compared with 2004 and 2016 when black voter turnout was 60% and 58% respectively which resulted in Republican Presidencies. At the same time, Kamala Harris’ choice should not be portrayed as a manifestation of an affirmative action. Her political pedigree belies that perception. It is most amenable to attracting a rainbow-multiracial coalition of support. Within that coalition, however, it must be an explicit recognition that her ascendancy within the democratic party is as a result of the hard work of black female political leaders, political strategists, ardent campaigners and voters that form the backbone of the party. Indeed, a plethora of dynamic black females were considered as worthy candidates for the post of Vice Presidential candidate. According to statistics from the Hamilton Project more than 90% of Black women on average have cast their ballots for the Democratic Party. Frank Bruni’s op-ed in the NY Times August 11, 2020 ,Kamala Harris is the Future Mike Pence May Well be History aptly puts it: “the expected Vice Presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence is more than a clash of perspectives and philosophies , it is an extraordinary collision of life experiences with racism and sexism at its core”
The Hurdle of Electoral Fraud
It is clear from the statements made by Donald Trump that Republican fraud is focused not on the standard process of adding fake voters but subtracting real ones . Hence there is need to make it hard to cheat and easy for legitimate voters to vote. The most obvious ploy is the attempt to curtail postal vote by enfeebling the post office services so they cannot deliver the ballots. The current policies of Postmaster General De Joy to slow down the mail distribution services include classifying postal votes as bulk mail. This attempt to restrict postal votes runs counter to US Constitution. A 2017 Study by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that voter fraud in the USA is between 0.00004 - 0,00008%. The Voter Fraud Data Base at the Arizona State University found 491 postal frauds between 2000 and 2012. This is very important since 72% of Democrats intend to vote by mail compared with 22% Republicans.
In 2016, the Russian interference in the electoral process in the USA was clearly exposed by the FBI as well as in the Mueller Report. Intelligence officials have reportedly found that Russia is again interfering in the 2020 election to try to support President Trump’s reelection and that they meddled in the Democratic primaries to help the Bernie Sanders campaign. The use of internet links to facilitate the Kremlin’s digital campaign has resulted in a Facebook announcement that it had taken down about 75,000 posts across 50 Internet Research Agency. The vigilance of the Democratic representatives in the House and their Senators is vital to the oversight and continued efforts to expose and remove these hurdles
A Dilemma in Branding Kamala
In the attempt to create a negative narrative around the imagery of Kamala Harris, President Trump and other detractors refer to her as ‘nasty’, ‘mean’, ‘disrespectful’ and more recently “a birther” whose American citizenship is being doubted. In fact all these are in deference to the reality that herein is the persona of a strong , proud, ambitious articulate, brilliant, beautiful, black lady: a potential President of the USA. The reference to her harsh policies against crime and criminals is correct but by itself it fails to capture the essence of her career profile. Her book, The Truths we Hold: An American Journey reveals that as California’s attorney general, she prosecuted transnational gangs, big banks, big oil, and for profit colleges. She battled the big corporations and mortgage companies and landed a deal of US18 Billion in 2012 as substantial relief for home owners following the 2008 economic crisis. She also supported the Affordable Care Act and fought to reduce elementary school truancy, pioneered the nation’s first national data initiative to expose racial discrimination in the justice system and implemented implicit bias training for police officers. She has been an advocate for increasing the minimum wage, making higher education tuition free for the majority of Americans and for protecting the rights of refugees and immigrants the protect.
At the beginning of the debates for the Democratic Presidential nomination, there was a notion that the Party maybe moving left ideologically. In the campaign, Kamala Harris’ positions did not clearly fit with any ideological classifications other than here was a pragmatist and a progressive. This makes the attempted stigmatization of her as leftist, far-fetched. What is more, even if Democrats control the House, Senate and the Presidency in 2021 the most important figures in Washington might be Biden, Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, all of whom have progressive inclinations and have kept some distance from, but with respect for the party’s left wing. Let the attached video shine its light on Senator Kamala Harris emerging..
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.