POSTSCRIPT / October 14, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why I prefer Kerry as next US president

VOTE FOR KERRY: If I were an average American with no Iraq war to worry about, I would vote for Republican reelectionist President George W. Bush.

But since there is the reality of that war devouring American lives and billions of American dollars, I — if I were an American — would have to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.

My reason for a Kerry vote is simple: The US should get out of that illegal and immoral war with as much dispatch and grace as possible — not much later and not in a pell-mell fashion reminiscent of Americans scrambling out of Saigon in 1975.

If they have not realized it yet, Americans will learn soon enough that they will never find goodwill and safety in a US-occupied Iraq. The only option is to leave the Iraqis alone, unless they beg us to please stick around to help.

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WITHDRAWAL: Even if reelected, Bush cannot disengage from Iraq in the short term. He is a captive of his character and of war-related businesses whose interests are promoted by the continuing conflict in the Middle East.

But Kerry, the Democratic senator, is situated differently. If elected president, he would find it easier to let go. Planning and carrying out a strategic withdrawal would not be as complicated as if the onus were on Bush.

After due consultations all around and seeing to it that all points are protected, Kerry as president could just announce one morning a phased withdrawal, and then push a multilateral rehabilitation plan for Iraq under the aegis of the United Nations.

Nothing messy. And no loss of face for America.

I admire Bush as a firm, consistent leader, but his trigger-happy presidency (and personality) will not allow him to disengage from Iraq in as simple and as speedy manner.

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ANYBODY’S GAME: Everyone we ask says that the US presidential election is too close to call. Even the polls do not show any decisive edge of one candidate over the other.

Consolidated results of several polls last week showed Bush with a slim lead, 47.5 — 45.8 percent, over Kerry. But with a margin of error of +/- 5 percent, that is actually a tie. The margin of error, btw, has gone up partly because of the reticence of an increasing number of Americans to respond to pollsters.

Political and election expert Jamie P. Chandler, who is in town in the course of a swing in the region, also said yesterday the Nov. 2 election could go either way. He advised local observers to look for “October surprises” that may turn the tide for one presidential candidate.

One event to watch is the third Bush-Kerry debate scheduled this morning (Manila time). Sometimes these town hall encounters betray some detail of the candidates’ personalities or state of mind that could spell victory or disaster.

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ELECTORAL VOTES: Chandler admitted the possibility (“greater than 50 percent”) of a repeat of the 2000 drama where Bush lost the popular election to Al Gore by some 600,000 votes, but won the deciding electoral contest by five electoral votes, 271-266.

Bush passed the winning threshold of 270 votes and grabbed the presidency by annexing the remaining electoral votes in Florida whose count was delayed by an electoral protest.

(In a controversial ruling, the Supreme Court stopped the recount so the electoral process could proceed. The order paved the way for Bush’s copping all the contested Florida electoral votes.)

In the current campaign, early assessments show that 257 of the electoral votes are likely to go to Bush — with Kerry more or less assured of 181. Up for grabs are the remaining swing 100 votes.

Saying it was still anybody’s game, Chandler said the states to watch are Florida, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

In the US “winner-take-all” system, the winner in the popular election in a state gets all the electoral votes of that state. It could happen, as it did in 2000, that a candidate loses in the US–wide popular election but wins majority (270) of the electoral votes to become president.

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LOW TURNOUT: A footnote in the observations of Chandler was about the low voters’ turnout in US elections.

While 85 percent in the Philippines would be normal, a turnout in the US of only 50 percent of some 100 million voters is expected on Nov. 2. Compare this to the highest-ever 80 percent turnout in 1876.

Chandler said the turnout in congressional elections is even lower — 30 to 40 percent. It is the opposite in the Philippines where local candidates and local issues never failed to draw out partisans and voters in droves.

The dwindling turnout was traced by Chandler to a failure of the schools to inculcate the value of the right of suffrage, the diminishing participation of citizens in civic activities and the usual excuses of voters such as not having the time to cast a ballot or a conflict of schedule.

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COMPUTERIZED VOTING: Unlike in the Philippines, Election Day (first Monday of November) in the US is not a holiday. Incidentally, the election will cost the US government some $1.3 billion.

The manner of voting varies from state to state. There are some states where ballots are still written. Some ATM-type devices and similar computerized machines are used in other places.

In Florida where discrepancies were noted in 2000, voters punched cards to indicate their choices. The cards were then read by machines that also tabulated the totals.

With the less than 100-percent reliability of machines and computers, their election use has been challenged in some places, delaying preparations.

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W.B. CONCERNED: We are not out of the fiscal woods yet. In fact, there is yet no generally accepted roadmap that all sectors are to follow in leading the nation out of the mess.

World Bank officials themselves have expressed concern, suggesting that we stop talking and just buckle down to work.

“I do feel scared looking at the fiscal situation of the Philippines and I do feel worried about it,” World Bank country director Joachim von Amsberg told the media.

“If one country’s public sector debt is already at 136 percent of its gross domestic product and the ratio of its revenues to GDP is only at 12 percent, that’s scary,” Von Amsberg said.

He noted that while “the government understands, the President understands (the problem), what surprises me is how quickly the debate degenerates into a political debate on the specific measures and their cost and benefits.”

He said there is a real danger that “people will get bogged down in debates on specific measures and may lose track of the real objectives.”

He agreed with observations concrete revenue-generating measures must be in place within the year so as to “increase competitiveness and regain some market confidence.”

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WOBBLY PROJECTS: Another scary note comes from Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando G. Andaya Jr., chairman of the House committee on appropriations.

He warned that the government is likely to assume P309.85 billion in financial obligations owed by 18 Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects to creditors, based on a Department of Finance report submitted to his committee.

Topping the 18 BOT projects is the finished but unopened NAIA Terminal 3, with its contingent liability of P94.25 billion or $1.71 billion. It is embroiled in a dispute between its builders (and prospective managers) and the government.

He said the other wobbly big-ticket BOT projects were: Casecnan irrigation project of the National Irrigation Administration, with its contingent liability of P63.81 billion; Metro Manila Skyway project of the Toll Regulatory Board, P43.87 billion; Leyte Geothermal Project of PNOC-EDC, P34.39 billion; Metro Rail Transit 3 of the Department of Transportation and Communication, P31.26 billion; and the West Zone Concession of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, P17.73 billion.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 14, 2004)

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