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International community eyes election

By Ana Campoy Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday November 16, 2000

When elections take place in other countries, the U.S. government seems quick to pass judgment, lauding efficient elections as a measure of democracy. But now the champion of democracy is in the midst of electing its next president in a manner befitting a tale more surreal than orderly. It includes missing ballot boxes, a faulty ballot and an outcome dependent on returns from a state controlled by the brother of one of the candidates. 

No one is enjoying the circus more than international students and faculty members from UC Berkeley. 

“The vision that the United States always tries to sell, that they are the perfect democracy, has changed for me,” said Julio García, a doctorate environmental engineering student from Colombia. “Maybe their democracy is not so perfect.” 

This notion doesn't come as a surprise to Mina Rajagopalan, an architecture graduate student. “The U.S. claims a lot of things it is not,” said the student from India, where she says corruption and vote rigging are more socially accepted. “They are no different than any third world country, they just have a better way of covering it up.” 

She said this election has exposed the deceptive way in which the U.S. democracy operates. Hong Yung Lee, a Korean political science professor, disagrees. He thinks that although the democratic system was not prepared for the current situation, it has pulled through. 

“It shows the strength of the American democracy,” he said, “It's trying to follow procedural laws and the rule of the people. It's really remarkable.” 

As for the uncounted ballots discovered in the trunk of a car in New Mexico, Lee sees them as an unintentional mistake. 

Martin Yong, a 21 year-old from London, has a different explanation. “I reckon it's the FBI or the CIA,” he said jokingly. 

To him, the whole electoral process has been “kind of funny and ridiculous”. 

“Both parties are the same and the system is undemocratic,” he said referring to the electoral college. He thinks each state should have one vote, like in the British parliament system, whose members elect the prime minister. 

The political system and the nationality of the people do not play a role in such a close race where confusion is expected, said Matina Marneri, an environmental engineering student from Greece. She thinks public reactions would not be different if the same situation arose in her country, where the head of government is elected by a parliament. “People are the same here or there,” she said. 

Maybe not. In the Philippines voters and election officials are more likely to be corrupted than in the United States, said Irma Gofalvez, a professor from the department of South and South East Asian studies. 

“The reason goes back to the economy: people who are very poor are attracted to bribery,” she said, “It's not justifying (the problem), but that's the way it is.”