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Questionable US elections?

M. Ziauddin

No matter who would win this week’s us presidential elections, it would hardly have any meaningful impact, one way or the other, on Pakistan’s fortunes. The 73-year long history of our bilateral relationship tells us that this relationship has always remained nothing more than the one that exists between a master and his minion.

Successive US Presidents, no matter from which of the two Parties—Democrats or Republicans-— have always conduct-ed their ‘master and minion’ relations with Pakistan driven only by the degree of asymmetry needed in their favor at that particular point in time to secure and/or promote their global/regional self-interests.

So, let the people of the US or the governments of those countries that stand to win or lose by the victory or defeat of one of the two candidates worry about the outcome of the forthcoming elections.

As far as we are concerned what seems to have intrigued most of us Pakistanis is, the outright doubts expressed by Trump about the veracity of the outcome of the election even before it had entered the contesting mode. Indeed, Trump sounded more like the leaders of Pakistani political parties who, driven by their suspicion that the establishment was trying to influence the results in favor of an opposing party, cast doubts about the authenticity of the yet-to-be-announced results of ongoing elections.

In his controversial performance in the only presidential debate with Biden that had taken place, Trump has even called for vigilantes to invade polling places and “watch very carefully,” suggesting he might reject a “fraudulent election” if many votes by mail. Before the debate, he had even refused to pledge a peaceful transfer of power. But mostly it sounded like bluster.

Still, add that to ongoing challenges of foreign interference and an election system strained by the pandemic, the fears that the election could break America seemed justified during the weeks leading to the poll day. And, to be sure, Trump has been doing all he could to undermine the vote and foment chaos. He has been shouting from the rooftops that the forthcoming elections would be stolen from him.

For most Americans, it was terrifying to think about an Election Day full of chaos and disinformation, followed by false claims of victory and attempts to swap out electors. But US election officials claim that there are strong safeguards in place and many ways for the system to block an illegitimate power grab. They further claim that there may be a plot against America, but a lot of people would have to break laws for the plot to succeed. They further claimed that an all-out attack can work only if all the institutional checks fail and the American people let it happen. One of the bulwarks which work against the grab is, they said, presidents don’t run elections, states do.

Some fear that federal law enforcement agencies could swoop into cities on the pretext of protecting public property or quelling riots, to intimidate voters or seize ballots. However, under a federal statute on the books since 1948, anyone who sends “any [federal] troops or armed men at any place where a general or special election is held” faces five years in prison. And even with presidential encouragement, voter intimidation is said to be illegal. Also, public expectations of how long the vote might take have already shifted. By Election Day, it should be even more widely understood that this year, it will just take longer to count. They further claim that the system was now more prepared to vote count-ing. The Constitution, they claimed, places a heavy thumb on the scale toward counting every vote.

Still, harassed by the outcries of President Trump many in the US have started demanding legislation to ensure permanent, universal access to early and mail voting, arguing that it would modernize and upgrade the nation’s election infrastructure and voter registration systems. They have also demanded of the Congress to pass legislation that enacts greater safeguards for the rule of law so that future administrations cannot so easily weaponize the Department of Justice and other law enforcement bodies to target political opponents and sow doubts about the integrity of the election system.

Editorial by: M. Ziauddin

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