As we in nations other than the United States, who have had a less glorious history with democracy, observe the United States election 2020, I keep being struck by the parallels between this year’s election and elections as I’ve witnessed them in my own country, Pakistan.
A little history for you: Pakistan has been ruled by several military dictatorships, as recently as 1999-2007. From 1989 to 1999, our two main political parties alternated in and out of Parliament (we have a supposedly Parliamentary democracy, a President, and a very influential Army running our affairs in a sort of hybrid model that still functions less efficiently than an electric Kia). The same thing happened from 2008 and continues today, except that a third party has managed to become the winner in the last election back in 201? (I’d like to say I’ve forgotten already, but I’m duty bound to tell you they happened in 2018).
Our elections are the type of thing that makes you want to groan and hide your head in the sand. Political rallies take place across the country, the tone and tenor and maturity of said events comparable to your average big top circus, complete with clowns and wild animals (one party took a real, live lion on tour on the back of a truck. It died of heat exhaustion so they just got another one).
The election results are always questionable: people brag that they vote once, twice, and three times. Dead people end up on the voter registration records. I myself found that my constituency (based on where I live) had been officially moved from where I actually live to the city’s most drug-riddled, gang-war addled area. I only found this out when the government introduced a text-message based service where you send in your ID number and your constituency gets SMSd back to you. Needless to say, I was not able to vote that year.
In America, things have been happening that I never expected to see. I know a lot of American politicking happens at monster truck rallies, but I never thought I’d see gun-toting supporters of the incumbent, swaggering around supermarkets and suburban streets. I was astonished to see luxury stores boarding up their storefronts for fear that their goods would be looted in post-election violence. Those sights have always been reserved for my Third World hybrid democracy.
The mudslinging in the US election has been impressive even by my standards. In Pakistan, we have always had politicians who call each other names and accuse each other of corruption and graft. We had a Prime Minister who was hanged, another who was assassinated, and several who have been convicted of corruption. Never in the United States have I seen a US president too scared to leave office because he might end up in court. But his insults and taunts to the opposition have been very worthy of a Third World election.
And the dancing. Well, what can I say about the dancing? A Third World election is always marked by primitive songs and dances by indigenous peoples celebrating their culture, their joy at finally being given the right to vote. This, at least to me, is a familiar and joyful sight.
To this end, I feel that a contingent of election observers made up of countries from the Third World — Pakistan, Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Somalia, for example — should have been invited to observe the US elections this year.
I also offer a few tips for those Americans who are finding themselves confused by what’s happening in your country.
— If your postal ballots are discounted, that is what we in the Third World call “vote rigging”.
— If you have to struggle to get yourself registered to vote, we call this “an attempt to sabotage democracy.”
— If you turn up to vote but find your name has been removed from the voter rolls, this is “vote tampering.”
— If you are intimidated by thugs from a certain party when you go to cast your vote, this is called “political influence/street democracy.”
— If women are prevented from voting, or are told by their husbands who to vote for, this is known as “patriarchy and misogyny endemic in Muslim nations.”
— Civil unrest after the election results are in? This is called “Election-related disturbances.”
— When both sides declare victory hours or even days before all the votes have been counted, this is known as “showing confidence in democracy.”
— And if the loser declares the result illegal, we simply call that “a test of democracy”.
Good luck, America! Vote early and vote often. (Your famous warlord Al Capone said this. I like to think we learned from the best)
Love, A Pakistani