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An unprecedented political crisis in the United States

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An unprecedented political crisis in the United States

Three weeks have passed by since the presidential election took place on November 3 but the official announcement on the outcome of the electoral exercise is still waiting. In the past, people were not waiting for the official declaration. The electronic media would telecast live the outcome of vote counting as announced by the election officials and within 24 hours of vote casting people would know who scored victory. The media reports were taken to be credible and the candidate who lost accepted defeat and congratulated the winner. This has not been the case this year. The incumbent president Trump had warned prior to election that he would lose only if the election was rigged. In this context, he cited the 2016 presidential election where his rival had scored 2.9 million more popular votes allegedly through fraudulent practice. But Trump could never produce credible evidence in favour of his claim in the past four years. Trump also threatened that he would not facilitate a peaceful transfer of power, if defeated.

This year the election was held under a special situation. The Covid-19 wrought havoc on the country. Over 10 million people were infected with virus and till the day of election about 230,000 people died of the virus. Despite the growing number of infection and higher death rates, Trump and his party stalwarts addressed rallies attended by hundreds of people in defiance of safety protocols promulgated by the Centre for Disease Control. Conversely, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee in compliance of CDC guidelines, conducted virtual rallies and encouraged people to make early voting. As a safety measure in most states, Election Officials permitted early voting from the beginning of October. They also allowed mailing ballots through postal services and agreed to tabulate these if reached within ten days of the Election Day. Trump, however, advised his supporters to stay away from early voting or mailing ballots and suggested them to vote in person on the Election Day. People rightly took advantage of early voting period. About 25 million people cast votes in person prior to the Election Day and another 50 million sent votes through mailing services. Processing of these 75 million votes posed a challenge to the election officials.

There is no "single set of rules" that govern the electoral exercise in the country. In some states mailing ballots are processed at the end, while in others, these are processed as and when they arrive. The lack of uniform rules on the processing of mailing ballots and absentee ballots and given the huge volume of early voting, the tabulation and counting of ballots took longer time. Since many states began processing the voting in person first and Republican voters voted in groves on the Election Day, Trump was leading in many states. This early lead instilled optimism in Trump that he was on the path toward victory. At midnight on November 3, before going to bed Trump tweeted that he won the election. But as the absentee ballots and paper ballots came under processing, the outcome started to erode the gains made by Trump. By November 5, the trend showed a different turn and Biden began to win state after state. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada -- known as swing states -- declared Biden as winner with convincing margin. The media projected in the early hours of November 8 that Biden had scored over two million popular votes more than Trump and exceeded the magic electoral college vote number 270. Trump got frustrated and cried foul.

Trump's legal team led by Rudolph Giuliani filed dozens of law suits alleging voter fraud in several states and demanded absentee ballots to be rejected and sought intervention of the court to suspend the certification of the electoral outcome. They claimed without any shred of evidence that there was a centralised conspiracy with roots in Venezuela to rig the US presidential election. The team alleged voter fraud in several counties predominantly habited by African-Americans. As expected, the courts dismissed the lawsuits and upheld the outcome of the election. Having failed in the courts, Trump's associates resorted to persuading the Republican party members to enable the state legislatures to undo the election and elect the incumbent president for the second term in office. This is a reckless move and is bound to fail. But the Trump administration is not relenting. They are now calling for recounts of the votes in Georgia, Wisconsin and some counties in Pennsylvania. Georgia has done recounting of the votes in some counties and the state has certified Biden as the winner. There will be a recounting in Wisconsin, but the outcome will unlikely to be different. The court rejected the plea for recounting of votes in Pennsylvania where Biden won by a margin of over 70,000 votes.

According to the latest update Biden received 79.89 million popular votes as against 73.87 million by Trump. Biden got 306 Electoral College votes as against 232 by Trump. The margins are significant and there is hardly any chance of the Supreme Court to overturn the outcome of the electoral exercise. Trump and his cohorts will have to come to terms with the reality.

Trump has not been seen in public during the past three weeks except his brief presence at the Arlington cemetery on the Veteran's Day, November 11. He has not been governing but settling scores with the people who dared not to follow his footsteps. Trump dismissed the Defence Secretary Mark T. Esper who reportedly wanted the military not to be dragged into partisan politics. His dismissal was with immediate effect. Then Trump instructed the Pentagon to further draw down troops from Afghanistan and Iraq ignoring the fact that Taliban's attacks on the Afghans military installations are on the rise and the situation in Iraq has not been calm. Last week, Christopher Krebs, the top Election Security Official was terminated by the president. Krebs's fault was refuting Trump's relentless unfounded allegations about massive election fraud.

In the past three weeks, Trump recklessly stalled the transition process and prevented the newly elected administration to have access to security updates. His irresponsible cabinet colleagues made a mockery of the transition and the Secretary of State made egregious proposition that transition to new Trump administration would be smooth. The General Service Administration did not allow the President-elect Biden administration to get funding for transition period. All these efforts aimed at making the new administration ill prepared for the challenges lying ahead. But as the law suits started collapsing one after another and the states began certifying the final counts of the election declaring Biden as winner, Trump realised that he was swimming against the tides and saw no possibility of any recourse that would grant him another term in the White House. Trump helplessly witnessed cracks in the ranks and files of the Republican Party and decided to surrender. On Monday evening November 23, he authorised Emily Murphy, the Chief of GSA to begin the transition process and informed the in-coming administration. In the meantime, 17 days were lost at a time when Covid-19 infection surged to 100,000 persons a day and daily deaths soared to 1700. Murphy attributed the delay in initiating the transition process to ambiguous rules and procedures of the department. The transition law has been in place since 1963 and none of her predecessors was ever deterred by any ambiguity in the law.

By agreeing to roll out the transition process Trump has capitulated to the verdict of the people. About 80 million people have voted for Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's nominee. This a decisive victory and Trump's equivocation will hardly make any dent on the events that would be taking place in Washington D.C in the coming weeks and months. Trump's conceding defeat would have been a gracious overture but now after so much baseless accusations and name calling, it is irrelevant. Trump has questioned the electoral process and challenged the outcome of the electoral exercise for the first time in US history. He tried hard to remain in power in defiance of the will of the people and let the Republican Party leaders forcefully reverberate his flawed and divisive actions. Trump has set a dangerous precedent for the future leadership of the country.

Trump has been defeated but during the past four years he has aggressively enhanced his sphere of influence over the Republican Party. The senior and traditional leaders of the party have shamelessly fallen in line with him and looked up to him for their political survival. This is the first time a traditional political party has been transformed into an organisation infiltrated by radical groups like Proud Boys, MS -13, QAnon and devoted to upholding the ideas, interests and agenda set by an individual and his family. It will be interesting to watch how the party charts its trajectory in future.


Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.

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