US Poll Predictions and Presidential Politics in the American Polity

By Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
SINGAPORE, Sep 7 2020 – The US residential polls are akin to a drama that is staged every four years in which the American are actors on stage and the rest of the world is the audience. With one major difference, however. While in a usual theatrical performance the viewers are there mostly for amusement, though some may be enlightened and enriched by the experience, in the case of the US elections, unlike in others, their fates are inextricably linked to the outcome of the play. This is not predetermined by any playwright, though it can often be predicted. It is not implausible therefore for some on-lookers to want to intervene in what’s happening onstage. It must be done discreetly, and with great circumspection. Take for instance, the Russians in the American elections in 2016. The Russians and President Donald Trump hotly dispute allegations of any such interference.

Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

Unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of intellectual resources devoted to model-building in order to be able to predict election outcome. The purpose is to develop a methodology superior to mere crystal -ball gazing. So many caveats are often entered into the exercise that robs it of major value. In the US, elections are ultimately decided according to votes cast by the electoral college of 538, comprised of representatives from the States. So, the magic number for victory is 270. Each State chooses its own electors, and these members of the electoral college vote on a ‘winner take all basis’. In other words, if a majority of the voters from a State vote for one candidate, all electoral college votes from that State are meant to be cast in favour of that candidate. Electoral college vote results may not, therefore, as they have not in some cases in the past, reflect the winner in terms of national popular votes.

For the purposes of prediction, the prestigious British journal ‘The Economist’ has developed a somewhat complex model indicating Mr Joe Biden of the Democratic Party as the winner. At writing, it is giving 91.7% chance of electoral victory and 98% chance of popular majority to Mr Biden. The Financial Time’s tally for Biden stood at 298. Professor Allan Lichtman of the American University and author of “The keys to the White house”, who has accurately predicted every Presidential electoral outcome correctly since 1984 using “13 key factors”, has predicted Mr Biden will win. In the ancient times, Greek and Roman drama-writers used a concept called “deus ex machina’, literally god out of a machine, in their scripts. This is an unexpected power originating from the gods, is introduced which alters the course of the narration.

It seemed for a while that nothing short of a divine intervention, a remote likelihood for Mr Trump in the view of his detractors, could save him from certain defeat. But then the race began to tighten, partly caused by apprehensions in some quarters with regard to the social unrest currently sweeping America, and Mr Trump’s repeated reassertion of Jeremiads against violence .Given the dichotomized and divided nature of the American electoral , both sides have loyal bases who will vote in accordance with their a priori views, come what may. So, the contest is basically for the minds and hearts of 8 to 9 % who are still undecided. These are the potential Biblical ‘Sauls on the Road to Damascus’ of the electorate, the potential converts to the other side. That is also the percentage point of Mr Biden’s current lead. So even if Mr Trump should win over most of the undecided numbers, which in itself is a stretch, Mr Biden would still have an edge.

This has encouraged Mr Trump to fight back. Unlike in the UK where the system of governance usually follows a culture of “good- chap model”, whereby political actors conform to a code of conduct perceived to be virtuous, no such tradition appears to shape American political behaviour. The absence of European-style feudalism that helped inspire such norms in the ‘old world’ might have impeded the development of such values in the immigrant political milieu of the ‘new world’. Mr Trump has provided a supreme example of this phenomenon almost all through his entire first term in office. He capped it at the Republican National Convention by using the White House, always seen as an apolitical institution (a ‘Peoples’ House’) as the venue for his speech accepting Party nomination for his second term of the presidency. Past occupants of the official residence of the president of the United states have abstained, indeed recoiled from politicizing what is largely accepted as a national symbol of unity Because of these reasons, the framers of the US Constitution had thought it wise to put down in writing the details of how the polity should be governed. They were wary of putting their trust entirely trust entirely on intrinsic human morality. Their faith in God did not extend to the faith in their own ilk. They were uncertain if their fellow-Americans would be able to rule democratically within a framework of established tradition of good governance unless a written Constitution set-out the guidelines. They were wise, but apparently not comprehensive enough. They left sufficient gaps and loopholes for the system to be gamed by politicians of lesser virtuous pedigree.

The equivalent of the US President in Britain is, not the Queen, but the Prime minister. Across the Atlantic the Prime Minister is the ‘primus inter pares” or first among equals who governs with the aid and joint responsibility of a Cabinet of colleagues. In the US the Secretaries, often termed Cabinet-officers rather than Cabinet–members, are, though appointees of the President, are approved by the Senate. As heads departments they are loosely equated with British Ministers. But they are not colleagues of the President in a political sense and become a part of their department whose role is apolitical. For instance, the top diplomat in Washington the Secretary of State does not while performing duties at home and abroad, associate his office with domestic politics. Recently, the current incumbent, Mike Pompeo, blatantly broke that rule, by politically using a trip to Jerusalem to advance the President’s political aspiration publicly.

According to British public service culture, as also in many democracies, officials shun active politics. In the US such behaviour was written into law. The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits employees of the federal government, except for the President and Vice President, in engaging in some form of political activities. But nowadays some allege that it is being honoured more in the breach than the observance. Many elements of democracy, such as voting rights for all, came later in the US than is often realized. The author and historian Michael Beschloss worries that unless these are protected they may also erode quickly. The incredibly sad consequence would be what the Fathers of the Republic wanted to avoid foremost, a descent into tyranny. Any law has content and spirit. The spirit is often equally important.

Take the question of leaving office. In Britain, should a Prime Minister lose the elections, or be defeated in a vote of no-confidence in the House of commons, he or she would proceed to the Palace, either kiss the Queen’s hands or offer her a curtsy and resign office. For this politician, it would not mean a withdrawal from politics, and thereby would be less painful. Office is seen as merely a privilege to serve the community. In America on the other hand for the President calling quits is forever, hence there is a burgeoning view that given Trump’s disinclination to conform to ‘good chap ‘ behaviour , he may drag his feet at leaving office , particularly if the results are close , alleging electoral fraudulence. The Biden crowd is suggesting if that be the case, the military would, or should, march Trump out of office. The US military has experience of marching several foreign Presidents out of office, but never one of its own. That would indeed be a unique experience!

While the component States of the American Union is largely governed by the Governors, foreign policy is the President’s domain. Given the military and economic clout of the US, their politics often become central to our concerns. Hence the need for the world beyond the US to understand, assess and evaluate them. For instance, a re-election of Mr Trump would mean a further retreat of the US into “Fortress America” and a greater disengagement from the world. On the other hand, a Biden Administration would mean a greater engagement, with other nations, multilateral institutions and issues such as Climate Change and Arms Control. That is why a US Presidential election generates a degree of interest in say India, Pakistan or Bangladesh as in Hawaii, Nebraska or North Carolina.

Text-books in Civics and Comparative politics, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, often tend to differentiate the British and American systems, sometime a tad simplistically, as being ‘Parliamentary’ ‘and ‘Presidential’ forms of governance. The French, with their own mixed form, never quite played along with this idea. That was also before China came to salience with their model of government based on ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics”, which no one else follows till now, but is important because China is. The Indian example is too chaotic to be recognized as a norm.

Writing his classic work ‘The English Constitution’ in 1867, Walter Bagehot argued a Constitution needed two parts: a ‘dignified’ one, to ‘excite and preserve the reverence of the population’ and the other , an ‘efficient’ part , ‘to employ that homage in the work of the government’. In Britain the two parts were sought to be kept distinct and to date has operated more or less smoothly. In the US they became, somewhat of a mixed hodgepodge. Around the mid- nineteenth century, a French political observer visiting America, de Tocqueville, perceived a discernible difference between appearance and reality in America. So, while trying to rid the new world of the tyranny of a King, were the framers of the US Constitution inadvertently creating an Emperor? Some may ponder. Confronted with such a question, Mr Trump might nonchalantly respond, “it is what it is”!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, National University of Singapore. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President of Cosmos Foundation Bangladesh. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac @nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

UN Women Calls for Accelerating its Unfinished Business

Women in Bangladesh stand up for gender equality. Credit: UNICEF/Jannatul Mawa

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
NEW YORK, Sep 7 2020 – Twenty-five years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing set a path-breaking agenda for women’s rights. As a result of the two-week gathering with more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This historic blueprint articulated a vision of equal rights, freedom and opportunities for women – everywhere, no matter what their circumstances are – that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.

A quarter century on, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calls for urgent action: “With nations around the world searching for solutions to the complex challenges of our age, the leading way for all of us to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies, is to accelerate the implementation of women’s rights – the Beijing Platform for Action. That vision has been only partly realized. We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and this simply has to change”.

The Beijing Platform for Action imagined a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for work of equal value. As a defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern.

Twenty-five years later, no country has fully delivered on the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. A major stock-taking UN Women report published earlier this year showed that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed.

Women currently hold just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board. Men are still 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The anniversary is a wake-up call and comes at a time when the impact of the gender equality gaps is undeniable. Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains of decades of collective effort – with just released new data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line.

We are also witnessing increased reports on violence against women throughout the world due to the lockdowns, and women losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors.

While much works remains on fulfilling the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action, it continues to be a global framework and a powerful source of mobilization, civil society activism, guidance and inspiration 25 years later.

It was at the Fourth World Conference on Women, specifically at the Women & Health Security Colloquium, where Hillary Clinton coined the phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights”.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, she recalled her participation at the Conference as the Honorary Chairperson of the US delegation, and the significance of the Beijing Declaration: “A 270-page document might not lend itself to bumper stickers or coffee mugs, but it laid the groundwork for sweeping, necessary changes.”

Underlining the urgency for implementation, she added: “As the changes laid out in the Platform for Action have been implemented, what’s become clear is that simply embracing the concept of women’s rights, let alone enshrining those rights in laws and constitutions, is not the same as achieving full equality. Rights are important, but they are nothing without the power to claim them.”

Years after, global activists continue the hard work and those who participated at the 1995 Beijing Conference remain touched by this historic meeting. Zeliha Ünaldi, a long-standing gender advocate from Turkey, said it was a life-changing experience: “When I recall those days, mingling around the tents with thousands of women committing to a better world, two words immediately come to my mind: sisterhood and peace. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the subsequent five years helped me understand the power in us and of us as the global women’s movement.”

The upcoming UN General Assembly later this month will be a key opportunity to bring to the forefront the relevance of the Beijing Declaration and move the needle on implementation, with a High-Level Meeting attended by global leaders on “Accelerating the Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of all Women and Girls” on 1 October.

The event will showcase how building equal and inclusive societies is more urgent than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages lives and livelihoods.

Calling on world leaders to use their political power to accelerate robust action and resources for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls: “This is a re-set moment. On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.”

The anniversary will be further commemorated in the context of the Generation Equality Forum, a civil society–centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of France and Mexico, foreseen to take place in the first half of 2021.

Exactly 25 years after the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, its significance is undimmed. In that quarter century we have seen the strength and impact of collective activism grow and have been reminded of the importance of multilateralism and partnership to find common solutions to shared problems.

Back in 1995, the deliberations of the Conference resulted in the framing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: a bold agenda for the change needed to realize the human rights of women and girls, articulated across 12 critical areas of concern.

The Platform for Action provided a blueprint for the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, adopted by 189 UN Member States and universally referenced.

The continued relevance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action cannot be overstated today. The far-reaching social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the significant increases in violence against women, threaten to reverse many of the hard-won advances made in the last 25 years to empower women and girls.

At the same time, the outstanding value of women’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic is in plain sight, along with the recognition of just how much women’s work and women’s movements have sustained the world, from domestic life, the fight for human rights, to national economies.

We also know that by next year, 435 million women and girls are likely to have been reduced to extreme poverty. Governments, local administrations, businesses and enterprises of all sorts must not let this happen.

To tackle persistent systemic barriers to equality, we need transformative approaches and new alliances that engage the private sector alongside governments and civil society. This is a re-set moment. The economic and policy lifeboats for our struggling world must put women and children first.

The political will of leaders can make the difference. World leaders convening at this year’s United Nations General Assembly have the opportunity to use their power in action to accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and to support the role of civil society organizations and youth.

Our humanitarian responses to COVID-19, our economic stimulus packages, our reinventions of working life and our efforts to create solidarity across social and physical distance – these are all chances to build back better for women and girls.

For success, we need to work together on these transformative actions. In 2019, we launched a global campaign called Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future, with a call for renewed commitment by governments in partnership with civil society, academia and the private sector.

It included clear timelines, responsibilities and resources towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious long-term framework that included goals to achieve universal gender equality.

On October 1, 2020, when a High-Level Meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action is convened by the President of the General Assembly, Member States can put into action their commitment toward a more gender-equal world.

On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women and girls in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.

 


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A Red Notice against Trump?

By Dr Rutsel Silvestre J Martha
LONDON, Sep 7 2020 -  
When INTERPOL is asked to intervene against targeted killing.

Introduction

Last June, news broke that Iran had issued an arrest warrant and [...] Read more »