Thursday, February 4, 1999
DISCLOSURE that seven vote-counting machines malfunctioned during the November general election has raised doubts about all of the election results. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi has called for a full recount and the Senate is expected to pass a resolution directing that such a recount be made of the more than 408,000 ballots. If the recount produced "significant findings," the Senate would then appoint a committee to investigate.
Full election recount
may not be necessary
This appears to be an overreaction to what at present seems to be a small-scale problem. Election officials doubt that a full recount is needed or would produce any change in the results. Before such an effort is launched, spot checks should be conducted to determine whether the machine malfunction problem was widespread. There is no indication at this time that it was.
There may also be a legal problem. State Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen, a former judge and legislator, said he believes an order by the state Supreme Court would be needed to conduct a recount. Heen added that he hasn't seen any evidence to support a challenge to the election results.
Mizuguchi said legislators have a duty to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the election process. Public confidence is vital. But what seems to be happening is that the legislators are shaking confidence in the system by overreacting to what may be nothing more than a few minor problems.
VICE President Al Gore's prospects of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, which were already bright, got considerably brighter with the decision of Rep. Dick Gephardt to pass up the race. The House Democratic leader from Missouri figures he has a much better chance to become speaker than to defeat Gore for the presidential nomination.
Gephardt bows out
It was the Democrats' surprisingly strong showing in the 1998 off-year elections for the House that prompted Gephardt to bow out of presidential consideration. The Democrats would have to gain only six more seats in next year's elections to regain control of the House from the Republicans. If they did, Gephardt would be the heavy favorite to become speaker.
Gephardt was regarded as the strongest of Gore's potential challengers. However, the vice president may still have to contend with former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. There may be other contenders, of course, but there is no one else presently on the political horizon who is likely to pose a credible challenge.
The Lewinsky scandal that resulted in President Clinton's impeachment and Senate trial has failed to tarnish Gore's squeaky-clean image or punish him for his loyalty to the president. In fact, Gore stands to benefit from Clinton's phenomenal popularity despite the Lewinsky scandal. Gore was embarrassed by disclosure of his attendance at what appeared to be an illegal fund-raising event in California in the 1996 campaign, but so far has escaped prosecution.
It's too early to concede the Democratic nomination to Gore, but unless he stumbles it is difficult to imagine him being denied it. With George W. Bush the early favorite on the Republican side, the voters could end up choosing between a president's son and a senator's son for the presidency.
SINGAPORE'S authoritarian legal system has sent an opposition politician to jail for speaking in public without police permission. The leaders of the regime are again demonstrating their defiance of international criticism and contempt for civil liberties. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, was convicted Tuesday of violating the Public Entertainments Act with a Dec. 29 speech in the downtown financial district. A judge ordered Chee to pay an $830 fine or serve seven days in jail. He chose jail.
Chee said he resorted to giving public speeches without seeking permits because in the past they had been denied or delayed until it was too late to make arrangements -- an accusation the government and prosecution dispute. The public prosecutor and government witnesses contended that the need for law and order justified the act.
Chee's party holds no seats in the 84-member Parliament, where the ruling People's Action Party holds all but three seats. The party has dominated Singapore for 40 years. It maintains that tight controls are necessary to avoid unrest. But it has been decades since any serious disruption of public order occurred.
Chee, 36, is scheduled to appear in court again Tuesday, the day after his release from prison, to face the same charges for a second public speech without a permit on Jan. 5. If convicted, he is expected to choose jail again rather than pay a fine.
In 1994 an American lecturer at the National University of Singapore was investigated for criminal defamation after he wrote an article that referred to intolerant Asian regimes and questioned the independence of their judiciaries. He later resigned from the university.
The same year Singapore attracted much international publicity when an American teen-ager received four lashes with a cane as punishment for vandalism. More disturbing is the government's ongoing repression of the political opposition and denial of freedom of speech.
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