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Wed Jan 28 18:12:39 SAST 2015

US poll showed a democracy in action - a lesson for SA

The Times Editorial | 08 November, 2012 00:09

The Times Editorial: To an outsider, there might seem to be a lot wrong with US politics. There are the huge financial and media resources required to fight an effective presidential campaign, effectively consigning smaller parties to the political wilderness. And there's the electoral college system, which can render the popular vote almost irrelevant in some states.

But Tuesday's US election was a breathtaking spectacle and its outcome, the re-election of President Barack Obama - a feat achieved by only one other Democratic president since the Second World War - was celebrated by billions of people worldwide.

Obama's victory is all the more striking because it was achieved in the face of a stubbornly high unemployment rate - a result of the 2008-2009 recession that bedevilled his first term.

Obama now has the opportunity to safeguard the projects he started in his first term, including his landmark reforms of healthcare and Wall Street.

But the challenges he faces will be formidable. They include deciding how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme, restarting the stalled Middle East peace process and responding to the opportunities and challenges of the Arab Spring.

Perhaps his biggest challenge will be at home, where he must find common ground with the Republicans in Congress if the nation is to avoid plummeting over the "fiscal cliff" - the expiry of tax cuts from the Bush era. And he has to raise the US debt ceiling while reining in government debt in the longer term.

As one watched the drama unfold, it was difficult not to make comparisons between the US political system and our own.

South Africa needs a more competitive political environment in which politicians and parties are held to account by the voters, and in which presidential candidates go head-to-head on live television to convince the nation that they really are fit to lead.

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