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Florida cliffhanger just a walk in the park for Thais

November 10, 2000

Call it the great American democracy at work, but for most people outside the United States watching the presidential ballot in Florida, it looked like a Third World election fiasco.

"What happened in Florida? It sounds like Italy!" a coffee bar proprietor, Massimo Ruggeri, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. A Mexican political scientist, Federico Estevez, said, "It does sound very Mexican".

The Associated Press did not interview any Thais, who might have exclaimed: "It sounds like the Pak Nam election." It really did look like the Pak Nam election scandal in miniature, judging by the CNN coverage.

There have emerged, from the Democrat supporters, charges of election irregularities and attempts in certain Florida counties to handle the balloting in favour of George W Bush, who experienced only a few precious moments of the sweet taste of victory. He could not as yet, however, claim a permanent victory over Vice President Al Gore.

The recount of about six million votes is now under way in Florida, and because of the need to wait for absentee ballots it might take 10 days or longer before the final outcome is announced. The winner will take the state's 25 Electoral College votes and the presidency of the United States. Bush was ahead of Gore by about 1,700 votes after the first count. Never in the history of US elections has a single vote really counted as much as in this exciting election.

Of course, the situation in Florida is nothing compared to the Thai Senate election this year. In some provinces, the election, due to fraud, had to go through five rounds of voting before the final results were announced.

The Florida results aside, most people around the world are perplexed by the US presidential election process. Although Gore has won the popular vote with 49 per cent, against 48 per cent for Bush, he can't take the White House. The decisive vote is that of the Electoral College, with the winning candidate required to garner at least 270. Each state carries a different number of Electoral College votes, depending on the size of its population. The biggest prize is California, with 54 votes, followed by New York with 33. Gore carried both big states.

Every four years, during the presidential election, there is some debate as to whether it is appropriate to retain the Electoral College. More than 200 years ago, when the US Constitution was drafted, its framers decided to place the Electoral College system into the presidential election as a built-in filter of sorts. It was intended to prevent the votes cast by the mass of men, considered unlearned by the elite, from determining the outcome of the presidential election. (Women were prohibited from voting in America until the early 20th century.)

In addition, smaller states, fearing that the outcome of the presidential election would be determined by the bigger states, wanted the Electoral College system to safeguard their political power. That is also the reason why each state is represented by two senators, while the number of the members of the House of Representatives differs depending on the size of the population.

If a presidential candidate wins the popular, or majority, vote in a certain state, he takes all the electoral votes. It's a winner-take-all game. In this particular case, if Bush carries Florida, he would reach 271 Electoral College votes, enough to carry him into the White House.

Some Americans would like the Electoral College system to be abolished, claiming it does not fit the contemporary political situation. Others believe that the design of the US constitution is too wise, and too sacred, to be tampered with.

Gore has pledged to stick to the rule of law, although he would love to claim that he was favoured over Bush as judged by the popular vote.

"We now need to resolve this election in a way that is fair and forthright and in a way that is fully consistent with the constitution and our laws," he said from his Tennessee headquarters. "Because of what is at stake, this matter must be resolved expeditiously, but deliberately and without any rush to judgement."

Stay tuned. The outcome of this vote might turn out to be nastier than the campaign.




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