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Complexity of US primaries make predictions difficult

CAIRO: US presidential elections, currently in the Primary stage, matter beyond its borders. As the world’s sole superpower, events in the US have consequences for the rest of the world. Thus it was only natural that even here in Cairo, the US embassy hosted an evening to usher in the results of Super Tuesday on …

CAIRO: US presidential elections, currently in the Primary stage, matter beyond its borders. As the world’s sole superpower, events in the US have consequences for the rest of the world.

Thus it was only natural that even here in Cairo, the US embassy hosted an evening to usher in the results of Super Tuesday on Wednesday (time differences), the day when votes in numerous states are tallied for the party elections, the platform from which will spring the two candidates for the presidency.

The candidates will come from the two mainstays of American politics, the Republican and Democratic parties. It is rare when a candidate running as an independent makes significant headway in the presidential vote, the last time being the exceedingly rich Ross Perot in 1996 and even then he ended eating from the Republican vote partially costing Bob Dole.

Yet even independents who don’t garner many votes can still affect elections, as displayed by Ralph Nader’s campaign run in 2004, who was blamed for Democrat candidate John Kerry’s loss and George Bush’s subsequent re-election.

The winner of the election in 1996, Bill Clinton has a stake in this one too as it is his wife Hillary who is in the hot seat to gain the Democratic party nomination slightly ahead of Barack Obama, at least for the time being. But it is the closest race in two decades, and all agree predictions would be foolish at this point.

After the voting of 22 states, Obama won more states while Clinton gained the higher number of delegates, or bloc votes within the states.

The Republican nomination is considerably clearer with John McCain in the lead. Yet hardliners in the party are opposed to him and would rather opt for his more conservative rivals Mike Hucakbee, who’s still in with a shout, and Mitt Romney.

After linking with Republican and Democrat political analysts via a live screen, the US embassy event – entitled “The Road to the White House: From Feb. 5 to the Party Conventions – then hosted a panel of speakers to continue the discussion in the wake of the results.

The convoluted Electoral College system used for the presidential elections (where each state carries a certain weight and if the candidate wins the popular vote in the state, he wins a certain amount of predetermined votes) was the center of a political maelstrom in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost to Bush in the electoral roundup.

The primaries, although not based on the same system, mirror the complexities of the electoral process in America. In essence voters may either pick the candidate directly or be represented by a delegate who may favor one candidate or another. In some states you do not even have to be a registered party member to vote for its candidates.

Additionally, there are also designated super-delegates, usually longstanding and high ranking party members whose vote carries more weight than other party members and delegates. Their influence therefore is crucial to the outcome, especially as they back the candidates after Super Tuesday and in the days running up to the party convention.

Dr Abd El Moneim El Mashat, Director of the Center for Political Research and Studies at Faculty of Economics and Political Science in Cairo University, kicked off panel proceedings by commenting on the results of Super Tuesday.

“[Although] the American public clearly [want] change, they are not liberal [enough] to go for a black man, based on the first 22 primaries, he said.

Closer to home, El Mashat unequivocally stated that anybody in the Middle East hoping for a markedly more Arab-friendly candidate who would increase pressure on Israel for a solution did not realize how immutable this issue was.

“There are some basic elements in American foreign policy which are the same for all candidates, one of them is the American relationship with Israel . and we have to respect that. We should not expect from any of the candidates any major change in the position towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said.

Dr Jerry Leach, Director of the American Studies Center at the American University in Cairo, said that the cyclical nature of American policies as one party eventually becomes corruptible after a long rule meant that the 2008 elections would go to the Democrats, regardless of who wins the party nomination.

“I believe we are coming to an end of Republican domination of American politics and we are shifting into the domination of the Democratic party which will last for x number of years. I believe this outcome will be Democratic in [the presidential elections of] November, he said.

“The United States has been made so unpopular in the world today that many people believe that this damage will be hard to repair, Leach stated as one of a long list of grievances harbored against the Republican reign, adding that the US is now seen as a far right country and needs to be brought back to the center of the political spectrum.

Michael Slackman, Middle East Bureau Chief for the New York Times said that despite Super Tuesday – often the clearest indication of the winners – being behind us, to predict the outcome based on the current situation would be an exercise in futility.

“The dynamics that occur during a primary or general election are so complex that it would be impossible to focus on the outcome, he said.

However, Slackman was adamant that the US had decided to opt for some sort of change, highlighting the differences between McCain and Bush as an example.

“I think all three of the candidates that have taken the lead in the race represent change, he said. “Each does represent change, not the same change, not perhaps the change that you like. I think the Americans have settled on the need for change, what they haven’t settled on is the direction.

Slackman’s one concern was whether the polarization of the United States evident in the Bush years would continue or whether the next president, regardless of party affiliation, would be able to mend the divisions that sprung from the highly contentious 2000 election.

“The direction that the primary has taken us so far, could lead either to healing or greater divisions [within the United States], could lead either to one America that gives the next president a mandate in which they can step forward to the world and make the kind of change everybody would like to see, or end up once again to represent a volcanized nation, Slackman said.

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