Highly Contagious

by Juan L. Mercado


“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 email traffic indicates  after Barrack Obama  trounced Mitt Romney with 303 electoral college votes to win re-election.

“We congratulate President-elect  Mitt Romney,” a friend emailed in a blooper minutes before 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.

President 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, the late  Florida tally didn’t matter.

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

“I emailed 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. Now 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 the voting booth before it closed,” wrote our grand-daughter,  a senior at 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 Metro Manila SM malls 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. Everybody “wins”: both the victor and the other who says he “wuz robbed.”  The gracious concession of, say a Don Sergio Osmena,  is now the exception.

Yet, there is a historical  hangover. The Marcos dictatorship rigged the 1987 snap elections. “Dadag bawas” entered our vocabulary  after the post-Edsa senatorial contest between Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Aquilino Pimentel. It is a point the self-serving  Enrile memoir  skirts.   A generation later, a  younger Pimentel was victimized in the 12-0 shut out of senatorial candidate 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 new elite in Beijing is 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 has not  even hint 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 “phornographic”  thrill for many Chinese watchers, 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 micro blog service: “We can stare.” Thus, there has been a torrent of 25 million posts on the topic on Sina Weibo.

The English edition of state-run newspaper  Global Times sought to pre-empt 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 in. US   campaign speeches to TV debates between candidates is a far cry from “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 a 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  “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 China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last month found that nearly half of Chinese have a negative view of the US . 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 Chinese rejecting democracy, down to 29 percent from 36 percent in 2007. Xu Chunliu of the micro blogging site Tencent Weibo says : “Being able to have conversations about voting and democracy is a positive step”.  It can also  be contagious.

(Email:  juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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