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A World Wishing To Cast a Vote

Arguing that the struggle against American unilateralism will gain strength unless the disaffected (and, they would say, disenfranchised) find ways to have their voices heard, professors Richard A. Falk of the University of California and Andrew Strauss of Widener University, in Delaware, have come up with a concept that they hope would enable people to participate directly in the world political process, regardless of where they live -- "a citizen-elected Global Parliamentary Assembly."

The two professors of international law model their proposed GPA on the European Parliament -- a body whose very existence I know my own English, Scottish and Welsh grandparents would have dismissed with harrumphs. Though the European Parliament started out as a largely advisory group, its role as the direct representative of the European citizenry has created a steady march toward empowerment, which my family now fully accepts. Over time, the parliament has gained budgetary responsibilities as well as some legislative powers. Under the proposed new treaty establishing a European Constitution, which was signed at the end of October but has yet to be ratified, the parliament's powers would be further enhanced. Might a global body of elected representatives follow the same trajectory?


The ballot box goes global: In 2000, Mexico established a polling place near the U.S. border, left, to make it easier for citizens living abroad to vote in its presidential election. In May, the Dominican Republic went further; it created sites in New York City, above, so that its citizens there could participate in the Dominican election. (Damian Dovarganes -- AP)

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Although democracies succeed by giving the alienated a voice, nobody is suggesting that an e-vote from his nomadic laptop would quell Osama bin Laden's virulent hostility to all things American. The solution to Islamic extremism is more than a click away. But I did wonder how my brother would have felt if he had had some way of registering his views before November's election. When I telephoned him, Rob reminded me that, more than a decade ago, our father, a great admirer of America, had pointed out the irony inherent in a situation where the president of the world's greatest democracy exercises so much power internationally and so few people have a say in choosing him. "Dad's point is more relevant now than it was then," he said.

While the Guardian's polling ploy got the impatient brush-off from Americans that he thought it deserved, Rob told me that what troubles him and some of his friends is the sense that you can't be a critical friend of America anymore; you have to be either for America or against it. Rob doesn't think he has the right to choose America's leader any more than Australia's or Azerbaijan's (just imagine -- every day could be election day!), but he said he knows plenty of people who feel frustrated because they can't see how they can get their concerns across -- and not just about terrorism but about universal problems such as global warming, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair has described as one of the gravest threats we all face. Which is why the two of us finished our transatlantic chat by speculating about some sort of global democratic forum.

If there seems to be something slightly seditious, or just plain ridiculous, about two representatives of the Old World entertaining such a revolutionary idea (me over my cup of Earl Grey tea in America and my brother over his glass of California wine in England), let me remind you of a little New World history: The United States started out as an experiment in democracy, offering an alternative system that gave voice to the disaffected. To begin with, the British weren't terribly enthusiastic about the whole project. It gained legitimacy, though, by exercising democratic principles. And, oh, what an overpowering success it has proved to be.

Author's e-mail:

sellersf@washpost.com

Frances Stead Sellers, an assistant Outlook editor, is a citizen of both Great Britain and the United States. She researched the evolving nature of national identity as a 2003 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow.


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