Going to the polls to choose a president


George Washington takes the oath of office at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, April 30, 1789.

The United States likes to think of itself as the model for democracy; whenever we are out and about preaching democracy, free elections and an open society we point to ourselves as the example, the model for the way it should be done.  However, sometimes we might learn from other countries.  For example we have about the longest, most expensive and contentious election campaign of any country.  Most countries limit the campaigning to a few weeks or a couple of months at most – we have no limits.  Thus for at least a year, lately it has been 18 months,  before a presidential election we are a bombarded by political advertisements, speeches, debates and general grandstanding.

I like the Syria and Egyptian models; today Assad declared an election in two weeks.  Yesterday there was no hint of anything except more fighting and now on the 26th the voting will occur.  Wow, not much time to organize or campaign now is there?  Other than the date, Assad announced the term of president would be seven years and each person would be limited to two terms; person, actually he said a man, a Muslim man.  And it is not clear if Assad is eligible for one or two terms, we must assume he will be running.  For the presidency, Egypt is giving much more time, the date was announced today, the voting will take place over a three week period in May.  Candidates cannot register until March 10th and then will have about 6 weeks to make their case.

French president, Sarkozy announced formally today that he is running for re-election, that gives him ten weeks to campaign. He has an opponent, a socialist and the polls are giving the socialist the lead.  But Sarkozy, like Gingrich, believes he can pull off another come back and repeat his victory in 2007.   Russia’s prime minister, Putin, wants to be Russia’s president; he has not made a secret of his intent for the last year, but only recently has he formally declared his candidacy and started to campaign.  He does have opponents, only no one outside of Russia seems to know who they are, they don’t get much attention from the press. The election will be held on March 4th.

There in just a couple of paragraphs one can sum up – sort of – the elections in four countries and in two months the voting will be over; although if the presidential election is anything like the parliamentary election in Egypt, the counting will take longer than the three weeks allotted to the voting.  Could we at least consider a shorter process? It would mean less money spent on campaigning and that might mean a bit less influence from the people who are donating the money the candidates are spending.

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