Monday, November 17, 2014

When too many elections can spoil a democracy

Nov 09, 2014

Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

This week, the United States mid-term elections dominated the headlines.

I was struck by the diversity in views of those who speculated on what a Republican-controlled Congress would look like.

Our resident world affairs commentator Jonathan Eyal who operates from London, was of the view that the White House and Congress will continue to be at loggerheads over foreign policy. On US President Barack Obama, he said: “Mr Obama himself has shown only contempt for Congress’ role in foreign and security policy matters. When he did not want to launch air strikes against Syria last year, he pretended that congressional approval was required for any action, but then did nothing to get it. Yet when the President decided this year to launch a far more extensive air campaign in Syria and Iraq, he argued that he possessed all the powers to do so without consulting Congress.”

Jonathan predicted that “the President may well reinvent himself as an international statesman” but that the bad blood between the President and Congress will continue to flow.

He predicted however that foreign policy and security will be a big issue in the next presidential election, as Americans hate to see their country being pushed around.

This view is dramatically different from that of another writer Ian Bremmer, president of risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

His view is that President Obama has been a risk-averse president on foreign policy and will continue to be so. The next president, too, will follow the same path, said Ian.

He points to a Pew Research poll conducted late last year: “For the first time in the 50 years that Pew has asked this question, a majority of US respondents said the US "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own". Just 38 per cent disagreed. That's a double-digit shift from the historical norm.”

Over all, 80 per cent agreed that the US should "not think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems"."

Our US bureau chief in Washington Jeremy Auyong was of the view that Mr Obama could seek to leave a legacy through foreign policy.

Whatever their views, one thing was quite clear: many analysts expect another two years of the legislature blocking the executive’s agenda.

It got me wondering about the pros and cons of a political system that thrives on checks and balances.

In this respect, the one commentary that I thought got to the nub of the issue was by two writers from Duke University who wrote in the New York Times. The headline of their article: Cancel the mid-terms.

“The realities of the modern election cycle are that we spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda,” wrote David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan.

Their proposal: “The government should, through a constitutional amendment, extend the term of House members to four years and adjust the term of senators to either four or eight years, so that all elected federal officials would be chosen during presidential election years.”

While non-democratic territories like Hong Kong agitate for the right to hold elections, sometimes, too many elections are bad for a democracy.

This is a weekly blog from Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong on notable commentaries from the Straits Times.

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