The majority of the Americans voted for Hillary Clinton as she received in excess of one million votes more than Donald Trump. But, Trump will still win the elections according to the Electoral College. This has happened before in 2000 and this is why many are demanding to reform the electoral system. It seems the Congress has listened to these calls and is getting ready to review it.
Despite the Americans’ criticism of this system and despite its many defects, the American system is still considered one of the best democratic systems when compared with parliamentary ones such as the French or the British. Criticism increases following each election season as many complain of major companies’ intervention in favoring certain candidacies through donations, super PACs and lobbyists. Trump himself criticized all this and promised to carry out reforms but I doubt this will happen.
Despite all that, the American system is more transparent than others. There is more balance among its authorities and accountability can be carried out from within it in a much better manner than other western systems. The president has major powers but they are not absolute. There are parallel powers to the president in the legislative councils as they review and hold others accountable. The president assigns his ministers but the Congress decides whether to approve them or not following hearing sessions.
The American government only has 15 ministers, unlike the case in much smaller countries, such as Lebanon which most recent cabinet had 24. Some consider that one of the American system flaws is that the president assigns the Supreme Court judges when there is a vacancy as judges hold their seats until they die or resign or get removed from office. Unlike the European system, the cabinet ministers cannot be members of the Congress but they have to quit either.
The case in France and Britain, however, is the opposite as all ministers are members of parliament or of the House of Lords. Anyone who is assigned a ministerial post from outside the House of Lords gets assigned in the latter. The president cannot interfere in the affairs of the Congress and he only chairs it once a year. Powers are separated and no power imposes its decision on the other. The president and his cabinet, i.e. the executive power, are separated from the Congress, i.e. the legislative power, and from the judicial power. The system obligates the cabinet to provide information to citizens if they request it. The only information it cannot provide are those categorized as confidential. Citizens can also request Congressmen to look into a certain affair while those labeled as top secret are reviewed by special committees.
The recent American elections were strange and different because Trump does not actually belong to the Republican Party and does not believe in all its principlesAbdulrahman al-Rashed
It’s a reasonable system but it’s not perfect. Active groups can influence the state’s activity while lazy ones can lose a lot because the system does not automatically protect those with certain demands. This is why there are groups for protecting the environment or minorities’ rights or vocations and so. Some of these lazy groups are the Arab Americans and the Muslim Americans and they lose a lot because they are not involved as groups in political work and just depend on the constitution to protect their rights.
The constitution is the system’s highest rank. There are countries which do not have a constitution such as Britain. In America, the constitution is almost sacred and it cannot be violated despite the president’s or judges’ powers. Amendments to it are historically rare. It protects everyone’s major rights and it’s considered the first system of support for minorities despite the many inciting campaigns against them. Many Muslim Americans filed legal lawsuits due to discrimination acts against them after the September 11 twin attacks and they won them according to constitutional principles.
This, however, does not replace their need for political work according to the political system which is available for everyone. The political system is distinguished with flexibility and it gives minorities a loud voice regardless of how small their numbers are. This distinguishes a country like the US as most of its citizens are immigrants who arrived there from different countries - unlike the case in European countries which have pure ethnicities and religions and where the majority’s interests dominate over the minorities.
Finally, although freedoms are protected and although political participation is available for everyone, the political system is dominated by two parties, the Republican and the Democrat. Intellectual differences between the two are limited, unlike the case in Europe. The recent American elections were strange and different because Trump does not actually belong to the Republican Party and does not believe in all its principles. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s major rival in the Democrat Party, is more leftist than any other candidate in the party’s history. We do not know if these are indications of change within the American political society or if these are just two rare cases.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 18, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed