Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It is by no means a mandate

There are many ways to parse Barack Obama's victory in the United States general elections.
He won handsomely in terms of what matters-the number of electoral votes in his favour as compared to those for Mitt Romney. But if you look at the popular vote, the victory is tight.
Another measure, the outcome in counties (like India's districts) will show that the bulk of them have gone in favour of Romney. If there is one central message from the outcome of the elections, it is that the country remains divided down the middle. 

All smiles after winning:m : US president Barack Obama 
A deep, and some would say bitter, faultline divides the centre right and the centre left in the US, and now we have the situation where a largely centre-right country, will be headed by a president who is centre-left.
A manifestation of this will be the US Congress where the Democrats will control the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives.
It is a famous victory for Mr Obama. According to a CNN exit poll, in a country where whites constitute 72 per cent of the population, he had 59 per cent vote against him, as against 39 per cent who supported him.
Despite his heroic role in stabilising the US economy and preventing it from sliding to a second Depression, people were concerned only by the current poor economic conditions.
He became the only president since FDR to win an election with an unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent.
He remains, of course, the first African- American to become president, and now, the first to be re-elected.


But by the same measure, it was quite an achievement for Mitt Romney as well. When the US election process began, not too many gave Mr Romney a chance against the incumbent President.
The Republican mainstream was dogged by the Tea Party fiscal conservatives and it took an enormous amount of grit for Romney to emerge as the main challenger.
Actually it was his performance in the first debate that got him into the reckoning and he ran a tenacious campaign manifested by the narrowness of the margin, in terms of popular votes.
What is interesting from the CNN exit poll data is the kind of America that supported Obama.
He clearly has the support of its rising number of minorities, the blacks and the Hispanics.
But in addition, he got the strong support of women, with 55 per cent voting for him, as against 44 per cent for Romney.
The young supported him in proportionately larger numbers- 60 per cent in the 19-29 age group backed Obama, 52 per cent of the 30-44 group while 51 per cent of the 45-64 age group (the most numerous) and 56 per cent of the 65 plus age groups went with Romney.
One thing is clear from these elections. The era of social issues colouring the US elections is over. Indeed, the passage of measures to legalise marijuana in Washington State and Colorado, and same sex marriages in Maryland and Maine point to another direction.
But on the key issue, the economy, there is less clarity because neither President Obama, nor Mitt Romney, clearly spelt out their plans to revive the US economy.
As of now the two sides are still locked in a battle because of their differing views on the economy. In the past Mr Obama has sought public investment in alternative energy, education, and railroads and wants higher taxes for the rich, while Mr Romney wants to reduce taxes and regulations as a way of fixing the looming fiscal nightmare that confronts America.


But the more dangerous part of the problem is unemployment. Alarms are being sounded now that the high unemployment rates could well turn chronic, as the workforce becomes too demoralised to get back to seeking active employment as things improve, or their skills become obsolete in the period they are unemployed.
This is a pattern that has been seen in many countries in Europe. Mr Obama's victory is not likely to mean much for the rest of the world.
With the stage set for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, we are going into an era that will see a general retreat of American power as the country grapples with the task of reviving its stalling economy.
However, international challenges remain- the longer range one of the rise of China, and the short term one in relation to Iran.
Mr Obama has already declared his new strategy of pivoting back to Asia, but a great deal here depends on how the new Chinese leadership handles the issue of Beijing's claims in the islands off its mainland.
Having faced down Israel in the run up to the election, the behind-the-scenes negotiations give Mr Obama the opportunity of resolving this crisis, the only one that could suck the US into another war, peacefully.


During Mr Obama's second term the American perspective on relations with South Asia is likely to remain through AfPak.
Any fair assessment of the developments will show that the Americans will remain deeply involved for the next four years in propping up the Afghan regime and trying to get Pakistan to play ball with Afghanistan and moderating its posture towards New Delhi.
India's relations with the US in relation to the rest of Asia, too, depend crucially on the choices that the new leaders of Beijing make.
Continued assertiveness on the Sino-Indian border will see an acceleration of India's military buildup, as well as closer ties between India and the United States.
In many ways, the Indo-US engagement will have become routine, albeit on a high plateau. Relations are already close and there is already a great deal of cooperation on matters ranging from economic policy to counter-terrorism.
India is buying increasing amounts of US defence systems and the only glitch that may be there is in the area of BPOs.
But this is linked to the wider issue of the way America deals with issues like fiscal policy, immigration, visas, trade policy and so on.
In each of these areas, the Americans can no longer waffle and they are going to be confronted with hard choices whose consequences they must be prepared to handle.
 Mail Today November 7, 2012

No comments: