Orderly Transitions of Power

United States officials should swallow hard before telling other nations how to maintain their democracies.

As Americans watched a presidential election hang by a chad in Florida amid legal confusion, their government was telling Peru to ensure an "orderly" transition of power after its president resigned.

Fortunately for Peru, Alberto Fujimori's power grabs during his decade-long rule have not been enough to destroy constitutional government. Still, it's not clear who will replace him. And given a history of military coups, terrorist rebellions, and drug exports, a wobbly Peru makes the US and others anxious.

But then, Americans are also anxious over whether their election system is flawed, from ballot counting to the Electoral College, and whether those flaws will strain constitutional safeguards and make for a bumpy transfer of power. They have suddenly discovered that democracy is easier to applaud than to realize.

The US is not alone in needing to refine its system to withstand the challenges of political ambition, legal combat, media spin, or imperfect ballot counts. The Philippines and Japan, too, are currently illustrating that democracies can be far from perfect in choosing and removing leaders.

Just 14 years after restoring their democracy, Filipinos will watch President Joseph Estrada face an impeachment trial next month on charges of taking bribes. He's resisted resigning amid massive protests - warning that future presidents would then face nonconstitutional pressures to leave and the Philippines would "become a banana republic."

In Japan, where the Liberal Democratic Party has ruled almost continuously for more than four decades, an internal party rebellion came close to voting Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori out of office yesterday. The political rupture sent tremors through Japan's tired old system of selecting the same kind of leaders from the LDP.

In contrast, two of the world's long-ruling parties were voted out of power in Taiwan and Mexico this year in relatively clean elections. Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox takes office on Dec. 1 in a historic transition.

The US, now set back on its heels by a close national vote and the Florida miscounts, fortunately has until Jan. 20 to wring out a winner and, more important, to begin revising its system of choosing leaders.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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