Highly contagious


“COUNT ON Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else,” Winston Churchill once joked. They did the right thing is what our e-mail traffic indicates, after Barack Obama trounced Mitt Romney with 303 Electoral College votes to win reelection.

“We congratulate President-elect Mitt Romney,” a friend e-mailed in a blooper minutes before the US polls opened. “He will sweep Obama out before this day is over, etc., etc., etc.”

He stitched a University of Colorado Boulder study, anchored on state-level indicators. “Obama will lose almost all swing states,” it projected. That’d include: North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

Obama in fact nailed down Colorado (where the UC Boulder school is located), plus  Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. This rout of battleground states meant, in the end, that the late Florida tally didn’t matter…

Romney conceded at 1 a.m., with a gracious call to the President. That sawed the limb from under my friend who had morphed from failed prophet to blind avenger. We chose not to rub it in.

“I e-mailed my absentee ballot three weeks ago to Florida where I am registered,” wrote a doctor who spends most of the year in the Philippines. “I helped Obama win.”

“Obama owes me and wife Trix big,” wrote our son, a Delta airlines pilot. “Regardless of what you hear in the news, we cast in Michigan the deciding vote. Kidding aside, we were so worried. We are now celebrating—with relief.” Our daughter in San Mateo county, next door to San Francisco, chimed in: “We voted Obama.”

“Had a full day in school, but managed to get to the voting booth before it closed,” wrote our granddaughter, a senior at the University of California at Los Angeles. “By then, this state was pretty much sewn up, so I can’t say I made the deciding vote like you guys. I did get a cool pin that reads: ‘I voted.’”

Does that mirror Filipino-American sentiment? US Election Watch, organized by the American Embassy in some SM malls in Metro Manila and Cebu, held mock elections. Obama took 1,620, or 76 percent of the 2,129 votes cast. Romney trailed at 509.

The US polls invite comparison. Here, no one loses an election, the old saw goes. Everbody “wins”—both the victor and the other who says: “I wuz robbed!” The gracious concession of, say, a Sergio Osmeña, is now the exception.

Yet, there is a historical hangover. The Marcos dictatorship rigged the 1986 “snap” election. “Dagdag-bawas” entered our vocabulary after the post-Edsa senatorial contest between Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. It is a point the self-serving Enrile memoir skirts. A generation later, Aquilino Pimentel III was victimized in the 12-0 shutout of senatorial candidates in Maguindanao and similar pits.

The sharpest contrast is perhaps offered in China, where the once-in-a-decade transition of leadership started Thursday.

The members of the new elite in Beijing are selected behind the scenes by current leaders and party elders: Xi Jinping has long been heir apparent to Hu Jintao. “The future leaders are confirmed. We cannot participate. There is no suspense,” Chinese citizens say.

Until now, China’s media have not even hinted at the widely anticipated succession. This blackout contrasts with US elections, discussed for months even in China’s state-backed media.

“No need to report this,” Li Datong, a prominent Beijing journalist, told Voice of America. “The common people guessed who it would be from Xi Jinping’s unusual promotions.”

Following US polls had a certain “pornographic” thrill for many Chinese watchers, the Guardian of UK reported. “For us, the US presidential election is the same as watching an [adult] movie,” the blogger wrote on the popular Sina Weibo microblog service. “We can stare.” Thus, there has been a torrent of 25 million posts on the topic on Sina Weibo.

The English edition of the state-run newspaper Global Times sought to preempt unflattering comparisons. “There’s no perfect political system,” it argued. However, China’s current system is widely considered to be an effective one.

Indeed, “the contrast between America’s electoral process and China’s one-party system could hardly be sharper,” the Economist notes. The US campaign speeches and TV debates between candidates are a far cry from the “wheeling and dealing carried out by supremely powerful figures, about whom ordinary people know very little.”

“Chinese leaders keep the substance of their political debates and personal power struggles out of view… China is still very much a closed book. This preserves the reading of tea leaves as a vital skill.”

Outgoing Hu Jintao has stayed 10 years in power. Yet, “there is only self-contradictory information to be found about the place of Mr. Hu’s birth, and no information at all about the date of his father’s death,” notes Kerry Brown, director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last month found that nearly half of the Chinese people have a negative view of the United States. Still, the survey registered a small increase among Chinese who like American democracy—up to 52 percent from 48 percent in 2007.

More dramatic was a decrease in the Chinese rejecting democracy—down to 29 percent from 36 percent in 2007. Xu Chunliu of the microblogging site Tencent Weibo says: “Being able to have conversations about voting and democracy is a positive step.” It can also be contagious.

(E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com )

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Tags: china leaders’ succession system , column , Juan L. Mercado , Marcos dictatorship , US elections

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