Where: Washington DC, USA
December 9, 2000: Guess what the biggest mystery is nowadays that has the world in thrall? It is Who will be the next American President? Try to imagine all the big lawyers and judges in America trying to unravel this mystery, arguing with each other, jumping about and tearing their hair in frustration!!
This is one mystery that even the most powerful man on earth, Bill Clinton, the current American President, cannot solve. And this is exactly what is making the United States the butt of all jokes in smaller and less powerful countries. And if you too think about it, it is really very very funny.
And the reason why the rest of the world is so amused? America is the most powerful country, and it makes sure that everyone else knows this. And when other countries, like India for example, have their elections, people sitting in America ‘observe’ our polls and comment on how much our politicians fight over the gaddi (the seat of power). All the time thinking that their way of choosing the leader is so much better.
But Lo and Behold! Look what’s happening in America now. The two candidates for the president’s post fighting for the gaddi, too!! Indeed, for the smaller, less powerful countries, what could be funnier than a reversal of roles?
But why are these two grown-up men fighting? The American elections were held on November 7 and the candidate from the Republican party, George W Bush, won over the candidate from the Democratic party, Al Gore, in Florida, by just a few hundred votes. But in America, if someone wins by just a few votes, then the votes have to be compulsorily recounted in that particular state.
Well, the votes were counted once again, but this time, Bush won by an even lesser margin than he was winning earlier. This made the Democrats think that there was surely some hanky-panky going on and they asked for the votes to be counted by hand, rather than by the computer.
Unlike India, where the people cast their voted in ballot papers, which are later all counted by hand, in America, the citizens vote electronically. Their votes are then scanned by the computer and counted automatically.
Gore obviously did not trust the computers. And so, the votes were hand-counted till Bush filed a case in the court saying that hand counts were illegal.
After this, the American election drama has proceeded so fast and it all got so confusing that even the American press had a tough time keeping track of what was happening!!
Now during this period, the Democrats (Gore) also accused the Republican party (Bush) of having tampered with 15,000 votes of absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are those where the voter has not very clearly marked his/her preference, but if one sees carefully, one can make out which name has been selected. So the Democrats have alleged that Florida officials were partial and gave the Republicans more votes.
The continuation of the hand counts and the tampering of the absentee ballots are some of the issues that have to be sorted out by the courts before December 12. If that does not happen, the fates of Gore and Bush hang on a balance and the likelihood is that Bush would be the next president.
Just between you and me, from the Indian point of view, the reason for the royal mess in the American elections is not very clear. After all, you will ask, if the Americans think there was some problem with the counting of the votes, why don’t they just re-count them and decide who won the elections?
But from the American point of view, the problem is a little more complicated than that. Their dilemma is that these things do not happen often in their elections so they are largely unprepared for it. The Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice has also suggested that the courts did not really have all the answers. Whereas others say that recounts should be for the whole State and not just for a few counties (districts).
On the whole, if the Florida Supreme Court decides against him, Gore may have to bow down and let Bush become President. However, if the judges decide that the 15,000 absentee votes should not be counted, then Bush will not have a chance and Gore would win. So to the Americans, who feel that ‘fairness in elections’ is very important, the court decisions are very important.
Now the big question – what will happen after December 12? That is the last day for Florida to give the final number of votes for each candidate.
In American elections, after the citizens cast their vote, there is yet another body, called the Electoral College, that makes the final vote that decides who the president is really going to be. This College is like a representative group of people from the various states of America.
So, a big state will have more representatives than a smaller one. Florida has 25 representatives in the Electoral College. Precisely why it is so important.
But another complication in this saga is that if the majority of the representatives in a state’s College vote for one particular candidate, even the rest of the votes will have to change in favour of that candidate. Very unfair, don’t you think? But this is why the candidates are so insecure!
About a month later the American Congress will count the votes of all the states combined and just in case there is a tie again, then the House of Representatives (something like the Lower House in Parliament) will chose the president and vice-president.
Two days later (January 20) is the great day when the name of the President is formally announced to the nation. But if that name is still not clear, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives becomes the acting President and then the House will vote on who will become the President finally.
Therefore, this fight between Gore and Bush could actually be very bad for America unless the courts make some definite decision. The other option is that either Bush or Gore give in and let the other person become president.
But is that likely to happen? Which side is the dice going to roll? The American people are really very worried and this mystery is likely to deepen as the days go by.