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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Between Elections

A few days ago I wrote about two elections that have been nagging and interfering with my pure peasant pursuits. Basically, here's the routine: I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the news on the Maldives and the US. It is downright alarming. I came here to write and to plant trees, not to read political analyses and fear for other countries' prospects.

Two countries that cannot be more different. A vast land mass versus twelve hundred minuscule islands. Populations of 300 million versus 300 thousand. Different levels of power, different takes on democracy. And the noxious breath of one country could literally sink the other...

The Maldives is a country too little known, too simply defined in postcards. But then, there is often a dark side to beauty, and the distant can be both attractive and bizarre. Take this uni-dimensional, uni-seasonal paradise of great gentleness and langour. Nothing moves very fast there, and nothing seems overtly menacing. The tsunami of 2004 did not gallop inland, the same roaring wall of water that smashed and swallowed entire coastlines. No. According to many tales, the wave advanced at a small trot up to the ankles, up to the knees, up to the waist oh-oh.... and then it started its retreat.

On most of the islands, days are hot and equal and spent in torpor under the relentless sun. Change is an new concept and an uneasy neighbour. A now elderly gentleman with a kindly smile has ruled the land for the past 30 years and would have liked to keep the job. He didn't even have to worry about it until recently, with the ascent of other political parties and a few pretenders to the throne. He didn't get a majority vote in the first round. The second round was today.

It's over now, with a phenomenal result. (Former) President Gayoom is packing his bags at his Male residence - some task, with 30 years' worth of stuff piled up in the shed. Outside the gates, people must be ecstatic - just to imagine it is a thrill – so hey, I too jump around the house for a bit and phone random people just to shout out the news and dream aloud.

One down, one to go. I don't yet know where I'll get the courage to read the news on November 5th. Despite promising polls, I remain frozen with fear. Americans managed to mess up the past two elections with such aplomb. Their choice then – and even more so now – affects everyone else in countless ways. Every world citizen of voting age should be given a vote to elect the next American president.

Cynics say it doesn't make a difference, there is no Right Guy, politicians will be the same. Having read the news for the past 8 years, I feel desperate enough to differ: it MAY make a difference, and there IS a Right Guy, this time. Barack Obama has the backbone and intellect, the better record and plan to at least TRY to avert the monumental storms ahead. The other guy doesn't stand a chance, and perhaps wouldn't even know what hit him when things began to heat up. Besides, he would be too busy fabricating smears and playing the blame game. All this has been clear for some time.

The numbers look better now, but I have spent ages going from angry to terrified and back when the two were tied in the polls or McCain was leading. Did that mean that half or more than half of Americans actually believed he was the better choice and were going to vote for him? How on earth could that be? Hadn't they seen (and paid for, and felt) the Issues? Weren't they told what the two candidates proposed for the country? Could there be any ambiguity?

Could they actually prefer to check out Sarah Palin's lipstick and wardrobe than the daily cost of Iraq, in money and lives and sheer suffering? Contemplate drilling for dwindling oil resources, all the while losing priceless habitat? Blindly stick to a careless way of life, driven by the call to Consume (and Waste) at all cost? Could they be allowed to choose to stay back while the whole world fought the bitter legacy of fossil fuels – hunger, water crisis, weather chaos, the crumbling of nature itself. Could they be still mumbling about race or recounting old POW stories instead of checking out the direction they should be taking?

This is in fact the only question: where do I want to find myself in X years? Answers proposed by the two aspiring leaders: on the road to a) Somewhere; b) Nowhere. (Note: answer B also describes the US trajectory for the past 8 years)...

It doesn't seem such a hard choice.

Still, the wait remains agonising. On the 5th of November I shall be free, but also strangely bereft. The eve of elections is when you get a glimpse of what might be possible and perhaps, perhaps you go for it too. Then another small chunk of history begins. Then I can finally shut my computer and start planting those trees.

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