The undertones of US election 2016

HARARE - The United States of America (USA) election 2016 presented a new dynamic in the triumph of politics of populism.

It indeed was not novel, as it has been experienced in many countries including Britain’s “Brexit” phenomenon in the beginning of the year.

More so, in other countries such as Zambia, Venezuela, Chile among others, this wave of populist politics has taken charge.

In other countries such as in South Africa, in the Netherlands, in Britain, Germany and Canada it is taking root.

The USA is unique in the sense that it is the first mature democracy to fall to populist politics.

Followers of this emerging trend in western democracies saw this coming, but never thought it was so near.

All pollsters predicted a victory for Hillary Clinton and maintenance of the establishment.

Alas, polls cannot measure people’s emotions.

However, more importantly, voters are still not open about their emotions; they just vent them in the polling booth.

When “your vote is your secret” becomes scary

Therefore, whether it was a vent against black domination for eight years, a break against the establishment, a denial of women advancement in politics or just falling for Trump’s populism, what is clear is Americans did not show their cards.

Rather they waited patiently and quietly and made their choice.

CNN pollsters stated that 62 percent of voters had made up their mind in September 2016.

Coupled with an increase in early voting (over 40 percent cast their vote early), this was more than just an overnight decision, a drunken youth’s ballot boob nor a reaction to FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s secret emails.

Thomas Carothers argues that there is an emerging trend towards populist politics mainly caused by anti-globalisation politics and the changing nature of state-society relations.

He states that in the USA, Trump managed to address issues on racism, immigration and promised change through some radical policy proposals.

Whether he will live up to the promises will be seen, but history has shown that populists find policy scapegoats to escape fulfilling their unrealistic extravagant promises.

When bad choices meet, it is a contest for least unpopular

To claim that Trump won because of populism is debatable.

However, one can claim that armed with his populist pronouncements, he was just the better of two devils.

Clinton represented the establishment, is not charismatic, her policies had been dealt a great blow by Bernie Sanders, was over confident and misled by polls and apparently failed to rise to the occasion.

What next? Will Trump own up?

Is the world prepared for USA pull-out of Nato, Nafta? Are three million immigrants prepared for deportation?

Are 20 million citizens prepared to lose their Obama care?

Will Donald Trump own up to his election promises?

Ten days after the election, one feels as if there is still no clarity.

One moment after meeting current President Obama, citizens on Obama Care and Nato seem reassured of continuity, the next they are not.

Such will be characterising US politics for the next couple of years.

Unless if Americans refuse to go along, as currently promising with anti-Trump demonstrations across the country.

Will the Republicans in Congress and Senate go along and ratify US isolation or fall from grace and big brotherhood?

Alternatively, is Trump the proper candidate for impeachment? Yes, there are more questions than answers, only time will tell.

When a ruling party is the master of populism: Zimbabwe

Populist politics have not evaded the African continent.

In Zambia, Michael Sata won the youth vote and ultimately the nation after making huge promises against the Chinese and policies of the then ruling regime of Rupiah Banda. 

In South Africa, the youthful Economic Freedom Front (EFF) is emerging strong and gaining ground at the expense of liberation party African National Congress (ANC). 

Nevertheless, Zimbabwe defies the odds. The ruling regime is the king of populism.

From 1997, realising the waning support base they gave war veterans gratuities, sponsored a violent fast track land reform programme, used the central bank to delve into fiscal policies, pushed for indigenisation policies, and are now dishing out stands to youths ahead of 2018 elections.

State power and resources are used to carry out populist policies ahead of each election.

Opposition is left reactively crying foul.

Moreover, they are muzzled out of media space to publicise their reactive politics and have no resources nor alternative media to campaign.

Can someone argue that Morgan Tsvangirai achieved this in 2000 and in 2008?

Was Morgan the Trump of Zimbabwe in 2008? This might be a debate for another day.

What is the future of democracies, in the face of populism?

Thomas Carothers argued that democracies have not increased since 2000, that is, no country that was not a democracy has become a democracy after 2000.

Even those where the USA and allies intervened to effect democracy such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

Democracies are built around institutions, sustainable institutions supporting democracy.

Where these institutions have not developed or are facing fractures, democracies will not sustain and or grow.

This is not to paint a bleak future, but all democrats at heart should start soul searching.

The ERC invites articles or opinion papers on electoral and democracy matters from interested individuals for prospective publishing in this column.

The requested submissions must be of less than 800 words in length.

For submission and feedback please contact

* Collen Chibango is the Research and Publications Manager at the Election Resource Centre (ERC). He writes in his personal capacity.

Comments (1)

When your services are no longer required by Zanu PF, you are history, just like the liberation war you claim to have fought.

Jones - 11 June 2017

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