Thursday, October 28, 2021

IEC could use Trump’s election as teachable moment but can’t

By any definition of the term and measure of the phenomenon, the United States is currently in turmoil courtesy of its new leader, President Donald John Trump.

Since coming into office on January 20 this year, the New York businessman-cum-reality-TV-star has everybody on tenterhooks. His belief that he is popular (he has described himself as “the ratings machine DJT”) propelled him to question clear documentary evidence that attendance at his inauguration was way lower than Barack Obama’s in 2009. Most unusually for a western leader, Trump asked for a Russian-like missile parade on his inauguration day but the army top brass refused. In a move that was hotly criticised by a former US Secretary of Defence, Trump has signed an executive order to replace senior military figures with his political strategist in the National Security Council. Without consulting the relevant government departments, he has imposed an ill-advised travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries. Already he has begun bullying other leaders and not too long ago, it was the turn of Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he spoke with by telephone. This is how the Washington Post reported the latter incident: “At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day ÔÇö including Russian President Vladi┬¡mir Putin ÔÇö and that “This was the worst call by far.”
Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.”Even the Pope has expressed worry about Trump.

The Trump presidency has unleashed a wave of dissent. A day after the inauguration, women descended on Washington to protest this calamity.Many more citizens are far from happy with Trump but will have to find a way to live under him as leader for the next four years. How then did the US end up with a leader that most people don’t want? Simple: voter apathy. Elections have consequences and in the case of Trump, such consequences could reverse gains that have been made over decades ÔÇô even centuries. Only 18 percent of eligible voters voted for Trump in an election in which 43 percent of the voting eligible didn’t vote. The latter’s participation would have vastly altered the outcome of the election.

For Botswana’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the unfolding fiasco in the US should be an excellent opportunity to tell citizens that voter apathy can give you a leader like Trump. IEC has a public education unit and it would seem opportune for this unit to seize on this teachable moment and caution people that a Trump-like leader is what an electoral process can produce when some citizens don’t exercise their right to elect a political leader. For purposes of maintaining friendly relations with the US, however, IEC cannot use Trump as a lesson. There may be other factors. In the new voting dispensation, IEC will no longer be able to combat voter apathy through supplementary registration which the amended electoral law has abolished.In an interview with Sunday Standard, the late Botswana Movement for Democracy leader, Gomolemo Motswaledi, said that the government was purposefully underfunding the IEC’s public education programme for fear that a huge turn-out on election day would result in an opposition takeover. Prior to his defection to the BMD, Motswaledi was the Secretary General of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

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