WITH just over six months to the November 6 US Presidential election, the race to be the ´leader of the free world´ is well and truly heating up. Four years ago, Barack Obama rode on the message of ´change´ and ´bipartisanship´ to beat his Republican counterpart John McCain. The American electorate, deeply frustrated by George W Bush administration´s disastrous handling of Afghan and Iraq wars, and feeling the pinch of a recession, plumped for Obama. It will not be as easy for the first colored American president this time. Most polls put Mitt Romney, who has all but locked up the Republican nomination, slightly ahead of Obama to win the day on November 6. For the beleaguered Obama, things seem to be getting from bad to worse.
In figures released on Friday, the US Department of Commerce reported a sluggish growth in American economy in the first quarter of 2012. Most analysts believe that the 2012 race will be decided by the state of the American economy in the next six months. If economic figures remain dismal, with recovery sluggish and no significant improvement in unemployment, that will give the campaign of Romney, who presents himself as an astute businessman who is a perfect fit to get the American economy back on track, a decisive boost.
After four years in office, Obama cannot call for a break from the past (as he did in 2008), nor does his message of bipartisanship (another of his selling tickets in ´08) resonate as the country struggles to come to grips with one of the most polarized legislatures in American history. Instead, Obama is likely to talk up his achievement in ´bringing to justice´ 9/11 mastermind Osama bin-Laden and his hawkish stand against terrorist safe havens across the world. Given that economy is likely to be the decider, he will also emphasize the fact that there are no easy routes out of the current economic mess, which, lest it be forgotten, he inherited from Bush administration. Healthcare reform, which Obama could have projected as a significant development in America´s semi-functional healthcare system during better economic times, could instead prove to be a millstone around his neck, as the Republicans are likely to ratchet up their pressure for the rollback of a program that is both ´undemocratic´ and ´one of biggest drains on American economy´. If the US Supreme Court shoots healthcare reform down altogether, it could potentially be a death-knell to Obama campaign.
In this election year in America, one is reminded of Nepal´s own Pushpa Kamal Dahal who emerged from the boondocks to lead then-CPN (Maoist) to a decisive victory in the 2008 CA polls. Back then, there was an unmistakable aura about the man. But soon after his election as the country´s prime minister, his shortcomings began to emerge thick and fast-his tendency to push the envelope on democratic norms, his duplicitous character, the unreliability of his words, his inability to take other parties into confidence-and his star, soon as it had risen, started to plummet. The comparison between Obama and Dahal may be tenuous, but they do have some things in common. Both assumed leadership during some of the most difficult periods in each country´s history. Obama inherited a crippling economic downturn from Bush, Jr. and found himself entrenched in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Similarly, it was always going to be tough on Dahal, a novice to multiparty polity, to take all actors into confidence in a fractious coalition polity. Some would argue that even Baburam Bhattarai, who rode a popular wave into prime minister´s office, has been similarly brought down a peg during his controversial tenure as prime minister, notwithstanding his achievements in pushing ahead peace and constitution process. The faith Americans have on Obama will be put to test six months down the road; it might not be long before Messrs Dahal and Bhattarai test theirs´ before Nepali electorate as well