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New President, New Relationship

Major TV networks in the US have projected that former Vice President Joseph Biden will become the 46th president of the United States. And while President Donald Trump has so far refused to concede as he exhausts legal remedies, world leaders have started sending their words of congratulations to the new leader of the United States. Our own President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has extended his “warm congratulations” to President-elect Biden on his victory.

 

President Duterte added that his government is “committed to further enhancing the relations with the United States under the Biden administration” especially owing to the “long-standing bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States.”

 

I would like to add my congratulations to President-elect Biden. I wish him all the luck in the world as he begins the arduous task of leading a divided country. In his first speech after it became clear that he has hurdled the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory, Biden called for unity and argued that “to make progress we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies…this is the time to heal in America.”

 

The recent elections have highlighted how deeply divided the American voters were. Despite many polls saying that Trump and the Republicans would be resoundingly defeated, it was a very tight race with the result becoming clear only after three days of uncertainty. Trump has shown that he has successfully tapped into the hearts and minds of millions of Americans who continue to support him.

 

As I mentioned in my previous column, the electoral exercise in the US is very instructive to us especially as we prepare for our own 2022 presidential elections. The voting in the US was considered historic because of the tremendous increase in mail-in or absentee ballots which skewed heavily towards Biden and the Democrats.

 

In theory, mail-in voting, or any other system that would limit in-person voting would be good. But as practiced, the system showed a lot of problems. Problems that our elected officials should have observed and taken note of so that we can anticipate these problems in 2022.

 

For one, local election officials were overwhelmed by the sheer number of mail-in ballots that it caused delays in the counting. Normally, US elections have been called as early as 12 midnight or early the next morning after the voting is concluded. The only recent exception was the tightly contested race between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. This one took more than 3 days before networks could definitively call the elections for Mr. Biden.

 

If we adopt similar voting systems in order to limit person-to-person contact, then we need to be prepared with an election infrastructure that will ensure accurate, honest, and efficient counting of the votes. This is especially true in the context of Philippine elections where losing candidates tend to not go quietly into the night. It is important to establish the reliability of voting and counting systems early on so that people would trust them.

 

For instance, would the post office have the capacity to efficiently deliver ballots to and from registered voters? How do we make sure that the mail-in ballots are legitimate and not subject to the shenanigans of cheaters? Will candidates accept the legitimacy of these votes?

 

This is a crucial time in our preparations for the 2022 elections and I do hope that Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sheriff Abas and the rest of the commissioners start early in the preparations so we can identify and solve problems early.

 

Again, my congratulations to President-elect Biden. I sincerely hope that under his administration, the US will treat us as equals and not a former colony that needs to be tutored. President Duterte has worked so hard to craft an independent foreign policy that made other countries treat us with respect and expand our pool of allies. Let us all pray for his success and the success of one of our allies in the community of nations.