Weekly#6: Elections Might Be Different

Success in the decades ahead will not come by chance. It will come only because the nation, from the president on down, actively tackles the future over the next decade and meets the challenges of the new century. We can’t afford to wait another four or eight years. This must be the first campaign. In the choices we make in the 2008 election, we’ll begin to determine whether the country will rise to the occasion, as it has done so many times before, and take on the future, or whether we will continue to push off into the horizon the moment we recognize how fundamentally the world is changing.
Garret M. Graff, The First Campaign

…When I entered the hall of the biggest hotel in Tashkent at 5 am on November 5, 2008, some people already had spent the night there preparing for the event. U.S. Embassy Tashkent was sponsoring a public event dedicated to the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election as the polls would close in one hour on America’s East Coast. American citizens in Uzbekistan as well as media, international organizations and local citizens were invited to watch live CNN satellite coverage as election returned roll in from across the U.S. This was a very special event for me. I have never watched elections so closely, never pushed “join” button on Facebook at the presidential candidate’s page, never seen live presidential debates, never trembled listening to the victory speech before. In fact, at my 25 years by that time and even by now, I have never seen another president than President Karimov ruling in my motherland…

As Edelman’s Obama write-up notes, “Barack Obama won the presidency in a landslide victory (by a margin of nearly 200 electoral votes and 8.5 million popular votes) by converting everyday people into engaged and empowered volunteers, donors and advocates through social networks, e-mail advocacy, text messaging and online video. The campaign’s proclivity to online advocacy is a major reason for his victory.” What Obama and his cool young Internet and tech geek staff managed is that they handled wiring Barack Obama’s genius image consisting of features of Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, and John F. Kennedy so that people felt it using piece of device in their hands. Campaign became a conversation. Presidential candidate sounded human. TubeMogul estimated that President Obama received the equivalent of some $45 million in “free” television airtime from people watching 2,000 videos created by his campaign and this initiative is one of many brilliant approaches used during the campaign.

The campaign was full of plausible promise, shouting it out so loudly that everyone believed it: to bring a change. Using mainly the online techniques, the campaign offered an acceptable bargain of voting for Obama and perhaps getting back what is promised within the next four years. Maybe and most likely, not many optimistic promises were kept; however, I should say that even I was very skeptical about the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq: within the next two years after the election, President Obama’s administration confidently and gradually stepped and is stepping forward to keeping its promise.

P.S. …When I entered the hall of a big school building in Tashkent on December 23, 2007 and wanted to vote for the first time in my life during the presidential campaign, a person with the same surname as mine and poor eye vision already had signed under my name instead of his on the log book, which is required to fill to get a ballot. I could not believe that election workers offered me to sign instead of that person and stupidly attempted to convince me that nothing is wrong with that. On that day, I watched numerous family voting cases, when one representative of the family filled up ballots for every other member of his family and voted for them too. I watched an official observer of “independent” election monitoring group from Russia drinking tea with the local election workers in the room inside, while numerous violations were taking place at the main voting hall. Clearly remember that it was a freezing winter day, so I rushed outside and cried…


2 thoughts on “Weekly#6: Elections Might Be Different”

  1. Madina, your blog post is an excellent reminder of Winston Churchill’s old quotation: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In the U.S., we always complain about our system of governance, but we still have it far better than most places in the world.

    I think one of the interesting aspects of social networking and politics online is its ability for foreign citizens to influence elections in a country other than their own. To “like” Obama, as you say, isn’t a feature limited to Americans on Facebook. You could certainly foresee a moment in the not-too-distant future when a group of American human rights activists start a movement to boost online a foreign candidate (like in Iran or Venezuela, for instance) and then for that online foreign support to be used again the candidate internally in that country. How should Facebook draw boundaries around national political participation?

    1. Mr. Graff, you are definitely right as noting that social networking erases that boundaries around national and foreign participation. Some people, let’s say, who “liked” Obama’s FB page, were foreigners.

      But one thing, which I actually like about the use of SM technology during the elections is that is at least tries to create that “conversation” which lacks between citizens and governments in some countries.

      Unfortunately for citizens and luckily for those so-called oppressive governments, they always have an option of using power and force if there is an “destabilizing alien pro-opposition” influence from the outside, just like it happened in Iran.

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