Elections have consequences: A closer look at US congressional elections

Category: Commentary
Published on Monday, 02 February 2009 18:34
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akol_5_0(Burlington, Vermont, USA) - As you will find out in this article, the people were the ultimate decision makers on who was sent back to the US Congress and who deserved to be sent home.

I may sound repetitive but I am warning our leaders, especially the Parliamentarians to be serious and vigilant with handling their legislative affairs on the floor of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly before they get sent home.

I just got off the phone with one of my best friends a few moments ago after expressing to me how frustrated they were with their area MP’s mediocre legislative accomplishments. His line of argument has been that this guy does not attend debates but only shows up early in the morning to record his presence and goes off to where the locals are drinking Aregi [locally brewed alcoholic beverage] and only shows up again at the SSLA Building late in the afternoon to confer with the rest of the MPs that whatever bill they have passed has his support (even if the bill may have some provisions that do not serve the interest of his constituents).

That is a good concern if that does happen. Suppose every MP shows up early at SSLA Building to mark his/her name “present” on the parliament roll call and leaves to attend to his/her personal obligations and desires, who will conduct the legislative affairs? And why would we even pay him/her for doing nothing?
That kind of frustration is not confined to that particular county but is observed from many Southerners who believe that the parliamentarians need to do more on behalf of their constituents back home.

Over this past weekend, I had a privilege of being on the phone with one of respected prominent South Sudan politicians (that I can’t name here because it was a private conversation) and what he told me was nerve wracking. He expressed not only just his frustration with the GoSS Governance style but also his sense of pessimism about the destiny of South Sudan.He voiced his concerns about a bloated South Sudan Government budget where 75% is earmarked for bureaucratic salaries and only 25% goes to the delivery of services to the South Sudanese. This veteran SPLA commander and now a prominent politician (exiled in Khartoum) expressed his rhetoric in the quotes below:

“We were a Movement that knew how to live with nothing or less, and that was the reason why we defeated the enemy despites the odds against us. I cannot understand where this mentality [of let us take care of ourselves] came from. If that was how we spent two decades in the bush commanding the large unpaid army [the SPLA] in the history of Sudan, we would have abandoned people’s struggle and stormed this city [Khartoum] looking for jobs long time ago. We wouldn’t have the CPA today”.

I pressed this Southern leader to tell me where the solution lies and he stressed that it is with the parliament, which has the sole responsibility of “appropriating public funds”. This answer was a scoop because it opened the door for what I wanted to tell him. I immediately floated the idea of running for his constituency during the upcoming elections. And his take on it was “he is looking into it, and he may end up running” against whoever the incumbent is at this moment.

Given the frustrations boiling up back home far away from the center in Juba, let us not be surprised if some of our great SPLM/A veterans get sent home during the elections unless they are cultivating their relationships with their electorates before the elections.

As for this prominent politician I had conversations with, if he chooses to run, I am afraid to concede that whoever has this seat is in big trouble because this veteran has charisma and some accomplishments to show his constituents. There are no opinion polls out there but I won’t be surprised if he has a majority support from his county. It will be a big political campaign to watch.

If elections will be free and fair, so many members of parliament are waiting for huge upsets and crumbling defeats in a few months, and that may result in some of our great charismatic leaders losing their seats. They should do something about it now and that is going to their constituencies and build those relationships before it is too late.

There is a lesson to be learned from US elections. I have been a US Government student during my undergraduate years, and one of the best things I learned about Democracy and the US political system is its way of holding politicians accountable for their actions.

The people through their votes have the power to reward those who listen to them, and punish those who ended up being arrogant while in government, and that was why the phrase called “throw the rascals out” was coined. It was a phrase coined as a way to show the trends that voters take in punishing politicians. The voters elect the politicians to serve them, and once they (politicians) grow out of touch with them (the voters), and start speaking with some sense of arrogance and entitlements to political power, they vote them out. And the US politicians know voters’ reactions and are receptive to their concerns.

Perhaps, the previous two US elections may give our leaders some ideas of how easy it is to fall from grace to grass. The 2004 US election showed how the Republican Party took over the US Government in its totality: President Bush (Republican) just won reelection against John Kerry (Democrat). In the same election, his party took over both chambers of the US Congress with expanded majorities.

The president at the time did not hesitate in priding himself for victory a day after the election night. He declared during his victory speech on November 5th, 2004 that "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it”.

In 2006 and 2008 elections respectively, that political capital ended not only because of Obama political tsunami but also because American people felt that many Republicans in the US Congress were rubber stamping Bush policies without exerting checks and balances and therefore were deemed to be “thrown out”.

In 2006 election, it was very stunning to see prominent Republicans going down in broad daylight. These were the prominent Republican senators taken down by unknown Democrats in the US Senate: Rick Santorum (Republican) of Pennsylvania, an ardent Bush supporter lost to Bob Casey (Democrat) in a crumbling defeat, George Allen of Virginia (Republican) was knocked out by relatively unknown Democrat, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, who succeeded his father as Rhode Island long serving senator went down after being defeated by another unknown Democrat named Sheldon Whitehouse. There were many Republican losses both in the Senate and the House during that election but those mentioned defeated senators were thought to be unbeatable and some especially George Allen were seen to have a shot at the US presidency. They are not in the US helm of power anymore and have never been heard from since they lost in November, 2006.

The 2008 Congressional election, which was overshadowed by Obama’s election, resulted in huge Republican defeats as well. It left the Republican Party in disarray without even a leader to have the Party regroup to chart a course they must follow moving forward.
What was very interesting to watch was how every single Republican up for reelection was fighting for his/her political life including those candidates running in “Red States” known for being Republican’s turf.

Again, some Republican big names in the US Senate were sent home: consider people like Ted Stevens of Alaska with over 30 years in US Congress, Elizabeth Dole of South Carolina, the wife of former US Senator Bob Dole who was the Republican nominee against Bill Clinton in 1996, John Sununu of New Hampshire, the only Senate Engineer with Harvard University Engineering degree and Gordon Smith of Oregon were defeated by unknown Democrats. These individuals were great Republicans but the people decided that they cannot represent them in the US Congress and they are nowhere to be seen since January 6th, 2009. By the way, another Republican, Norm Coleman of Minnesota is fighting for his political life as we speak but it looks like the Democratic contender, comedian Al Franken will prevail because he has over 200 votes ahead of him (Coleman).

It is worth mentioning that three other Republican open seats from retiring Republican Senators went to Democratic Column without much resistance and the same case was seen in the House of Representatives where Democrats expanded their majority beyond what the pundits predicted.

The only defeated Democrat across the entire US was Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana (and I guess he is probably the only African American who may not have celebrated Obama’s win during the election night for understandable reason: he was mourning for his political life).

Back to election having consequences; we have seen right now why Obama didn’t even need Republican votes in the House for his stimulus package because the Democrats were able to pass the bill without even a single Republican vote. It looked as if they do not exist.

In the Senate, he will only need one Republican vote to reach 60 votes (Senate 2/3 majority filibuster proof votes) to have the bill passed and that is easily achievable by targeting “Blue States” vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2010.
In this bad economy, those who lost the elections (including their staffs) are still looking for jobs. One commentator put it this way: “it was a very sad situation to see many Republicans packing their belongings on the Hill (the US capitol) shocking up tears while smiling Democrats can’t wait at the door to enter and measure the drapes and set up their offices”.

Therefore, the advice to South Sudanese politicians is very clear and simple. There is nothing like entitlement to political leadership in Democratic political system. Those who succeed in holding onto public offices in their entire lifetimes are those who make concerted efforts to go out to their electorates to mingle with them and listen to their concerns. The politicians who succeed are those who bring up human personalities in their interactions with voters (like Hilary Clinton tearing at the Diner in New Hampshire during primaries, and ended up winning that primary against Obama contrary to what opinion polls were predicting: Obama winning by 10%).

Surely, elections have consequences. We have seen it happen all the times. Please, make yourselves available to your constituents and answer their questions with a sense of humility. I am afraid some of our SPLM/A veterans will be sent home unless they get on the trails right now.

Yes, elections have consequences that losers won’t like but that is the only way we the people can show our muscle to the politicians.

Akol Aguek Ngong is an MBA student at the University of Vermont. He has a BA in Economics and Political Science. He also serves as Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the same Institution. He is a New Sudan Vision Contributor.

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