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Executive power has limits, Trump must realise that

Elections are open to digital manipulation in the tech age.


Allan Jacob

Published: Sun 29 Sep 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 29 Sep 2019, 10:44 PM

The integrity of elections. 'What's the big deal?' one may ask. But voters demand a fair deal from the practitioners and beneficiaries of democracy.
They deserve to know their candidates won fair and square. That there was no foul play and the political class played by the rules.
But can these popularity contests be above board, I often ask myself. Didn't we all know that there were influence-peddling, cash-for-votes and other scandals. There are even allegations of votes being rigged and balloting machines being tampered with to give some candidates the edge. Booth-capturing has also been a concern in some countries like India.
Elections are open to digital manipulation in the tech age. The previous US presidential election, the losing Democrats believe, was influenced by Russian trolls on social media who set up fake accounts and swayed unsuspecting American voters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin played a role in ensuring Donald J. Trump made it to the White House as the country's 45th president. I say, get over it. An investigation by Robert Mueller proved nothing, but stuck to the collusion script. President Trump has been under a cloud since then - he will remain so for the rest of his term because now he allegedly asked Russia's rival Ukraine to dig up some dirt against his likely foe for the 2020 election, Joe Biden, a former vice-president. Biden is fighting a seesaw battle to come up trumps (can't resist the word) against 18 other contestants from his party.
It's not clear if Biden will make it yet, but some dirt against the former veep could hurt him in the campaign. Trump knows that and has allegedly brought pressure on Ukraine to probe Biden's son Hunter's deals in that country during the previous Obama administration. Nothing came of it but word got out about the conversation, thanks to a CIA whistleblower.
US Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker has quit as the storm over an impeachment enquiry gathers over the Trump administration. Three committees have subpoenaed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to present details of the July 25 conversation the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump is clearly playing defence. He will flail about, rouse his support base and tweet like crazy under these circumstances. We don't know him to do better. Which brings us to the regulatory and ethical system that is built into the American democracy. With the foreign, intelligence and oversight committees turning the heat on Trump and his aides, it is clear the presidency is one among equals. Indeed, there are controls and the president cannot afford to abuse his executive powers for personal gain to spoil the chances of a political opponent. He allegedly dangled a $400 million defence deal to Ukraine to probe Biden. It is unclear if the Ukrainian president fell for it, but the allegations are serious and an impeachment enquiry against Trump is a step in the right direction.
The institutions of the American democracy remained focused on the larger picture as the president plays to his political base, which may still win him dividends ahead of the election next year.
But the system is kicking in and reminding the American people of the moral and ethical code that their politicians should adhere to. And it does not spare the president. Institutions of democracy are larger than the individuals that run them. The president's alleged abuse of power is unacceptable and ethical standards that were promoted by the country's founding fathers and writers of its constitution will not be sullied.
Trump might still politically survive the maelstrom from these disclosures with his rabble-rousing and striking out at the institutions that are probing him. But how he will do it is the question. His support base could view him as the victim as he goes ballistic on social media. It's his favoured script and has served him well before. But this time it could be different. The moral and ethical code is above the mass code and American democracy has proven again that it is still vibrant and resilient despite Trumpism's sordid hysterical effects.

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