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U.S. Election: The World Should Also Have a Vote

There is already a Web site on which the world can express its opinion, known as "The World Votes" ( http://www.theworldvotes.org). Its founder, Wiebe de Jager, of the Institute for Multiparty Democracy in The Hague, described the basic idea behind his project:

"Nowadays there are many issues that go beyond national borders and national elections, but the international community is unable to fully engage in their discussion. The World Votes recognizes that in a post-Sept. 11 era, U.S. foreign policies affect countries and their citizens all around the world. With The World Votes, people all over the world now have the opportunity to let the U.S. presidential candidates know what they expect of the head of the world's most powerful state."
U.S. election: The world should also have a vote

Yoichi Funabashi IHT/YaleGlobal Thursday, March 25, 2004

TOKYO ''I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don't appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States." So spoke Senator John Kerry at a fund-raiser this month as the two-horse race for the most powerful presidential seat in the world swung into full gear.

While Kerry may be committing a serious political error in aligning himself with leaders from the outside world - including his new and unlikely supporter, Kim Jong Il - he is correct in assuming that the rest of the world is awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections with bated breath.

Kerry has made his criticisms of Bush's foreign policy clear, yet as far as Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea are concerned, Kerry's policies are seen by much of the world as only a paler shade of grey.

The options on offer from both candidates are few and the choices far between. This is not only a bad sign for the United States but also for the rest of the world. World peace and the lives of six billion people on this planet hang on the outcome of the elections. How the United States under its next president takes on the reconstruction of Iraq, tackles terrorist threats and nuclear nonproliferation, deals with Muslim societies, and copes with issues of trade, currency and the global environment, will all have a significant effect on the entire global community.

Under the current U.S.-centered international system, the United Nations has been sidelined. Longstanding U.S. allies like Britain and Japan have been relegated to a "coalition of the willing" (now minus Spain), while other major powers such as China and Russia are frantically trying to make "transactions" with the United States. No country has the power to effectively restrain America.

The world is restlessly waiting to hear the alternatives to the Bush administration's "unilateralist" foreign policies. Hopes are high that as November draws near, Kerry will be able to articulate the Democratic foreign policy options more clearly.

Charles Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University and author of "The End of the American Era," believes that since Sept. 11, 2001, the system of checks and balances has broken down in the United States. Internally, opposition parties have almost disappeared, and those expressing a dissenting view are few. Bush critics are condemned as unpatriotic, and only in the past four to five months have opponents of Bush's foreign policy begun to creep out from behind the rocks.

The problem exists internationally, too. No one wants to upset the United States, which remains the biggest market for exports and largely controls multilateral financial institutions. Many foreign leaders feel obliged to measure their words when discussing U.S. policy. The last hope for keeping the United States in check is international public opinion.

If this is the case, why not give the citizens of the world a voice in the election of the next U.S. president?

The idea is to hold a mock election via the Internet at individual discretion, giving everyone around the world with access to the Internet the chance to cast a vote. Voters would be able to choose the candidate they think is best for the world, giving reasons for their choice. The results should then be published before the real election on Nov. 2, allowing U.S. citizens to take world opinion into account when making their own decision.

The Internet can provide input from people who otherwise wouldn't be heard. There are currently an estimated 700 million Internet users worldwide. Taking out the 200 million Americans who are now regular Web surfers, that leaves half a billion people outside the United States, including 200 million in Europe and 230 million across Asia, who could express their opinions on American policy.

Web users obviously don't represent the views of all of their fellow citizens. However, the type of person connecting to the Web matters. In the developing world, particularly, Internet users often include the educated economic and social elites who are traditionally responsible for shaping and evaluating their countries' foreign policy. What these people think should matter to the United States. Regardless of the administration in the White House, these are people whom Washington and Wall Street have to work with in pursuing American interests overseas. They are in a unique position to both shape and reflect public opinion in their countries.

Periodically taking the temperatures of the world's Internet users would not constitute a revolution in U.S. policymaking. American politicians are used to relying on domestic opinion polls to gauge the political winds.

There is already a Web site on which the world can express its opinion, known as "The World Votes" ( http://www.theworldvotes.org). Its founder, Wiebe de Jager, of the Institute for Multiparty Democracy in The Hague, described the basic idea behind his project:

"Nowadays there are many issues that go beyond national borders and national elections, but the international community is unable to fully engage in their discussion. The World Votes recognizes that in a post-Sept. 11 era, U.S. foreign policies affect countries and their citizens all around the world. With The World Votes, people all over the world now have the opportunity to let the U.S. presidential candidates know what they expect of the head of the world's most powerful state."

There is a danger that the results of a world poll such as this would be strongly anti-Bush. The World Votes categorically states it is "most certainly not intended to be an anti-America or anti-George W. Bush platform." But, as one respondent on the Web site remarked, "the site name says it all: The entire world votes. If the outcome of these votes is anti-Bush, then that must mean that the world is truly anti-Bush."

In any case, Americans deserve to know what the world thinks of their president, as he is their representative on the world stage. Likewise, the world deserves to be able to influence an election that will, in turn, influence their lives. An Internet voting project could accomplish both, while promoting international dialogue about politics that matters to everyone.

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Yoichi Funabashi is a columnist and chief diplomatic correspondent for The Asahi Shimbun.

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