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Eyes on US

From Ioane Burese At The East West Centre, Honolulu, Hawaii
Tuesday, November 06, 2012

THE clock is ticking down to the final hours of one of the greatest events on the planet — the United States presidential election.

The four-yearly event, a tradition guaranteed by the US Constitution and staged in accordance with the wishes and spirit of the country's Founding Fathers, has been pitting incumbent Democrat Barack Obama against Republican Mitt Romney.

And it's been, according to "people in the know", a race too close to call — it will be, they say, a sprint to a photo finish. Much, they add, depends on what has transpired over the past few days.

This, however, hasn't really been of much help for a bunch of dumbfounded lay people from the South Pacific who've assembled here at Honolulu's East West Centre to discuss, watch, analyse and — perhaps — learn about the processes of constitutional democracy in action as they unfold in the greatest country in the world.

The experience has been, to say the least, overwhelming; the volume of information imparted simply bewildering.

This writer is part of a team of journalists and elections officials from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Timor Leste who've been brought together by the East West Centre's Pacific Island Development Program (PIDP) along with support from the US Department of State.

The purpose of the activity, says PIDP resident director Gerard Finin, is to gain first-hand knowledge of US national, state and local electoral systems through direct observation and interaction with a diverse range of individuals engaged in the electoral process.

"It represents an effort to deepen participants' comparative knowledge of the US electoral system, thereby contributing to a stronger and more vibrant community of Asia-Pacific democracies," said Dr Finin.

For a number of years, the centre has fielded multinational election observer teams to learn about and offer suggestions to improve the ways in which elections are conducted in various Asia Pacific nations. This year, however, is historic.

"This year is our first program hosting a multi-national group within the United States," Dr Finin said.

"The overall objective is to create a network of individuals who understand and appreciate the principles and practices of holding free and fair elections as a key element of democratic governance."

Here in Honolulu, considered the ultimate melting pot of East meets West, hundreds of people cast absentee voter ballots — early polling— on Saturday (Hawaii time) ahead of Tuesday's polling day (early tomorrow, Fiji time) at the Honolulu Hale — City Hall — in a process that appeared as smooth as it was efficient. For the Pacific delegation, the event provided the first rare insight into essential ingredients of the make-up of the American psyche — democracy and freedom.

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