The holding of elections in SA and the USA in the past ten days have been of great interest to many South Africans. The agonising counting process in the USA reminds one of the protracted counts here.
There is no real comparison between the US presidential election and the internal election to decide the leadership of our country’s second-largest party and with it the leadership of the official opposition.
But there are important points that coincide, like the forced changes because of the Covid pandemic. The most controversial aspect of the American election is the postal-voting that has reached unprecedented levels and there are allegations, not yet substantiated, about significant electoral fraud.
The USA has not coped all that well with the new digital world ushered in by Covid. Posting millions of voting papers to voters who vote and post them back seems to some observers to be an invitation to dishonest electoral practices. The extent of that remains to be seen. There will be recounts in key states with several Court challenges between now and early 2021. The Economist wrote: “Polls suggested Joe Biden would win in a knockout. Instead he got a dogfight.”
The DA Federal Congress was postponed for many months because of the Lockdown and there were objections that a virtual congress on Zoom would not be free and fair. The party decided to proceed, promising that every delegate would be able to participate and that all the voting would be scrupulously fair. A thousand delegates Zoomed in from their computers and another thousand collected at 39 remote points all over SA, connecting by computer to Congress.
The whole process was admirably covered by our TV stations, ensuring that it was open to scrutiny by everyone. To the surprise of some, the Congress was a resounding success with not even a single suggestion that any delegate was disadvantaged or denied a secret ballot.
What pleased many, was the example of good manners and loyalty to each other, and the DA, that both John Steenhuisen and Mbali Ntuli displayed. People like a good winner and hearts warm towards a good loser.
The US election has offered a contrast. Joe Biden, too old in the eyes of many, attracted 74 million votes and Donald Trump, too ghastly for words in the eyes of many and adored by almost as many, over 70 million votes. Together, they set a new record of voter turnout.
What is different is the graceless aftermath. Biden generally behaved impeccably, except when he said that the country was strong enough to evict trespassers from the White House. Trump is, after all, president until 20 January. His conduct was atrocious. While conceding that some of his policies are sound and that his presidency has been a success in the eyes of almost half of the USA, one knows that Trump supporters did not prefer him because of his dignity, charm or graciousness. He did not disappoint them with his refusal to accept the result and his promise to go to the Supreme Court to “prevent the election being stolen.”
He has set an example of how a head of state should not behave. He has the fullest right to ask for recounts and challenge any outcomes in Court. He must do so if substantial grounds show that America’s democracy has been subverted. But one hopes that in the coming days and weeks he will surprise everyone by becoming “Mr Nice” instead of “Mr Nasty.”
This election is far from over. The world will watch and wait to see how winners and losers conduct themselves in a great democracy.
[i] Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com