On July 30, 2020, US President Donald Trump floated an idea/threat of postponing the US Presidential election, until people could “properly, securely and safely” vote. According to Trump, increased postal voting could lead to fraud and inaccurate results.
Both Democrats and Republicans in a rare show of unanimity, immediately shot down the threat because, postponing elections, Mr. Trump, is what autocrats do.
For instance in 1975, the High Court in Allahabad, convicted the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - the then incumbent premier - of election infraction and banned her from politics for a six-year period.
In response, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency throughout India. The order bestowed the Prime Minister the authority to rule by decree, permitted elections to be suspended and civil liberties curtailed. During the emergency, most of Gandhi’s political foes were imprisoned. A stringent press censorship was imposed, and several controversial programmes such as the forced sterilization of men and women imposed to control population growth.
Closer home in our own country, we remember how late President JR Jayawardene held a tainted referendum in 1982 to put off holding elections via the 4th Amendment to the Constitution for the Extension of Life of Parliament. The referendum was called by JR Jayawardene shortly after he had been elected to a fresh six-year term as President in October 1982.
With the term of the then parliament due to expire in August 1983, President Jayawardene was facing a certainty, that the UNP regime he headed, would lose the huge majority in parliament if fresh elections were held. He therefore proposed a referendum to extend the life of parliament with its constituency unchanged, permitting his party the United National Party to maintain its five-sixths majority in parliament.
The December 1982 referendum was held in an atmosphere of fear and repression with opposition political and trade union leaders imprisoned, particular media houses proscribed or banned and physical violence visited on anyone seen to be anti government..
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva of the LSSP described the referendum “as a display of organised violence to cover mass impersonification...”
Jayawardene won the rigged election and ruled with his 5/6th majority in tact. It led some political parties going underground and commencing a bloody uprising.
By a strange quirk of fate this August, Sri Lankans goes to the poll, but here the opposition is calling for a postponement of the poll citing the pandemic, O tempora, O mores!
More recently - on Friday - Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, announced the postponement of September’s planned legislative council elections, claiming elections were not possible amidst the pandemic. In actuality, Hong Kong’s elections were postponed because the Chinese government was afraid voters would elect the opposition.
In Africa, from Congo to Algeria, to Idi Amin in Uganda; leaders have seized power and put off elections for one stated reason or another. The reality is that they do not voluntarily give up power.
The antics of US President Trump today, is no different the actions of tinpot dictators in different parts of the world, or that of Carrie Lam in Hong Kong. Both Trump and Lam site the pandemic as reason for postponement of elections. But the reality is, Trump fears he is losing to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden and wants to stop him by fair means or foul. There is no provision in the US Constitution for a President to delay a presidential election. The date is fixed by law and even in the event of a postponement, Trump cannot continue in office beyond January 2021.
Why then has Trump called for a postponement of elections?
From its inception, the US has had a tradition of trying to prevent black Americans from freely participating at the polls . They (blacks) are subjected to identity checks to register and vote... all manner of obstacles have been created to strike them off from poll registers.
Trump is playing on these racial tensions especially at a time when the ‘Back Lives Matter’ movement is galvanizing Afro-Americans. He is stoking fear among white Americans to rally around him. It is also a means to take away from his (Trump’s) mishandling of the coronavirus which have killed over 150,000 Americans.
Through his wild claims that the upcoming election is fraudulent, inaccurate and crooked, Trump is intentionally mobilizing supporters on the basis of colour and creed to protect his presidency .
This toxic brew could easily explode into violence and in the long-term lead to the disintegration of the US as the single entity that we know today.