Protesters and supporters gather outside Trump National Golf Club, while U.S. President Donald Trump plays golf, in Sterling, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHERISS MAY
Protesters and supporters gather outside Trump National Golf Club, while U.S. President Donald Trump plays golf, in Sterling, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHERISS MAY

Postponing elections is what autocracies do. On Friday, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced a delay to September’s planned legislative council elections, citing the coronavirus public health emergency as her justification. Yet the real reason is Hong Kong’s political emergency. Hong Kong’s elections have been postponed because even with its very limited democracy, Lam and the Chinese government are afraid voters will choose a council with greater sympathy for the protests.

In spite of their very different systems, Donald Trump’s reasons for proposing the postponement of November’s US presidential election are essentially the same. Trump also cites the pandemic. But his real motives are also political. He thinks he is losing the campaign. He thinks Joe Biden will be elected in November. He wants to stop him if he can, by fair means or foul. And he wants to discredit his own defeat.

Yet there are significant differences between the two cases, which need to be understood. These make Trump’s move in some respects even more sinister. There is nothing in the US constitution that permits the president to postpone an election. The date is fixed by law. Such a change would require an act of both houses of Congress, so it is not going to happen. Even Republicans admit this. In any event, a postponement would not allow Trump to continue in office beyond January 2021.

As there will be no postponement, why then did Trump take the extreme and extraordinary step of suggesting there should be? Trump is trying to mobilise his forces to fight dirty on his behalf. He is doing so on the basis of race at precisely the time when the US has been galvanised by the Black Lives Matter campaign. He is also doing it to distract from his terrible failings. More than 150,000 Americans have died of Covid-19. The US economy has collapsed 33% year on year since April.

But Trump is also challenging democracy itself. The election, he said last week, could be fraudulent, inaccurate and crooked. He is preparing the ground for a defiance of the result, and preparing to deny legitimacy to his potential successor. /London, July 31

The Guardian

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