Monday, 27 February 2012

The Guide To Choosing A President

(Note: I have written a recent blogpost in Arabic commenting on the neutral criteria that, I believe, should be considered when choosing one's own candidate for the presidency. I was asked to make an English version of it. This is it.)

Egypt's Presidential Candidates

The, erm, fascinating GOP lineup

How Do You Choose A President?

Soon there will be historic presidential elections in Egypt and Tunisia, and we are about to witness critical presidential elections in France and the U.S., among others. But how do you actually choose a candidate to support? Well, I went ahead and did some research into the matter, from political, psychological, historical and other perspectives, and came up with what I believe to be some objective criteria.

Please remember that these are not in order of importance, or in any other particular order.

1- Background: who is the candidate? What's her or his history? What are his achievements and failures? What are his educational degrees, if any? What has she or he achieved in her or his life? Does he have a history of political or other activism of any kind? How honest has she or he been throughout her or his history? How are his connections with other political & influential groups and figures in the country and around the world, and would they be willing to sincerely work with her or him? Does she or he have a strong character? Is she or he a team player, while maintaining her or his independence as a leader? And how is the sum of all the answers to these questions compare to that of other candidates?

2- Why did she or he run for office: is the candidate actively and powerfully seeking the candidacy,  has he been doing so for quite some time, and expressed interest in it for a while, or has he seemed "forced" into the candidacy, or not sufficiently eager to fight for the presidency? It is said that candidates who have been vociferously seeking the job of President are more likely to be dedicated presidents for the sake of proving themselves, but are more likely to succumb to corruption, and/or to be more pragmatic than perhaps they should be, and be more willing to compromise on perceived red lines. Conversely, candidates not seemingly too eager to win the job are less likely to fall for corruption, but may not be necessarily be sufficiently pragmatic as needed to get the job done.

3- Job description of the Presidency: an Italian President, for example, is more of an honourary job, with lesser duties and responsibilities. An American President, on the other hand, is a full-on leader. If the job of President is honourary, you can compromise on certain criteria, such as the age of the candidate. Conversely, if it is a true executive post, you need to be stricter in your choice.

4- Age and health: typically, you need a candidate who is neither too old nor subject to clear health concerns. You should be capable of imagining this candidate serving one or two full terms with his full health, mental capacity and focus.

5- What is needed from the President now: while a state is run by various institutions and staff, and not dependent on a single person, the leader of the country has a true influence on the political focus of the country. A president, especially if his political party dominates parliament, gets to set legislative priorities, influence or create the policies. Every political phase in the life of a nation has certain priorities (e.g. job creation and economic growth, pollution, national security). It is thus, at times (though not always) useful when a President's specific background or expertise helps in addressing the current priorities.

6- His chance of winning: Sometimes (not always) it is better to vote for the second-best candidate rather than your most favourite one. For example: Assuming you are a leftist (for example), and there are two left-wing candidates, one right-wing candidate, and your candidate is only getting 5% in the recent polls, while the second favourite leftist candidate is getting 31%, and the right-wing candidate has 32% in the polls. Since your candidate can't win, it might be better to vote for the second-best leftist candidate in order to give a chance for a representative of your ideology to win.

7- Knowledge of political & economic principles, of current Events: does your candidate show a true understanding of politics and economics, or is he just a smooth talker? Does he know and understand sufficiently what is happening in the country, the region and the world? Does he understand international conflicts, for example? Does he, another example, understand the current international economic crisis?

8- Advisors and entourage: who are the people in his closest circle? Who are his advisors? How do you evaluate them? Will any of them hold office if the candidate is elected? Who else did thecandidate say he would assign to which governmental position? How do you evaluate them?

9- What are her or his presidential platform and plans: what are the candidate's ideas and plans to combat poverty, unemployment, improve education, reform healthcare, fight pollution, solve energy challenges, deal with national security concerns, security on the streets, and so forth. How does he prioritise them? And how do these plans and ideas compare to those of other candidates?

10- School of thought: which school of thought or ideology does your candidate adhere publicly to? Do you approve of this school of thought? Do his actions and statements fit with his official school of thought? If not, do you think this divergence is a result change, evolution, outright lying, political pragmatism and manoeuvring, or his attempts to refine or develop or explore the limits of that school?

11- A special question with more than one correct answer: would you rather vote for a person who has an excellent professional track record and credentials, but may not be the kind of person you would personally like or has one or more questionable incidents in his history, or would you vote for a candidate whose personal values and ethics and history you like, but does not have proper credentials or an impressive track record?

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