It’s been a big week for elections political and ecclesiastical, and a week where chance has been seen as the enemy of the ballot box – except in one time-honoured rite where blind luck rules.
The US presidential election was decided in Barack Obama’s favour by the arcane 200-year-old electoral college voting system, where winning can mean something different to getting the majority of the popular vote of a population of 300 million. Although it was a pretty popular vote. Queues winding around the block and around rope lines in high-school gyms attested to that, as did 70 and 80 per cent turnouts in certain states and counties.
In one way, choosing whether or not to reinstate the 44th president was the quintessence of democracy; in another it was a popularity contest fought between two phenomenally well-funded men from two different political persuasions played out on American TV screens at a cost of billions of dollars.
Both candidates employed teams to laser-focus electioneering efforts on states, on counties in those states, on neighbourhoods in those counties, on streets in those neighbourhoods and on houses on those streets. In short, in a noisy, messy election, both sides wanted to eliminate risk, chance and pot luck wherever they could.
China’s chosen its next leader, too. Well, China hasn’t, but the Communist party’s 18th national congress met in Beijing this week to tell 1.3 billion Chinese who their next leader will be: Xi Jinping is set to replace Hu Jintao as general secretary. A good turnout here means 2,300 black-haired bureaucrats sitting attentively in the inaptly named Great Hall of the People to applaud speeches delivered by their elders and betters. Risk has been removed from this particular election process by restricting it to an infinitesimally small number of people who are party first, citizen second.
The risk-averse (but far from calm) Church of England is getting a new boss too after a process of internal debate and a list drawn up by the Crown Nominations Commission. Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, is odds-on favourite with bookmakers to seal the deal on becoming the next Archbishop of Canterbury when his name is presented to the British prime minister to recommend to the Queen for approval [the appointment has since been confirmed]. Welby’s name passes through the two most important hands in the land but will remain unaltered by them. In his pre-ordained days the Bishop of Durham was an oil executive; as the Archbishop of Canterbury he is expected to be very much chairman of the board.
The last-but-not-least spot in this electoral roll must go to the Coptic Christian church in Egypt and the wholeheartedly random way in which they picked their new pope. Sure, church elders select a shortlist of three candidates but then random rules: in a five-hour ceremony a choirboy is chosen at random to be blindfolded and pick a name from a sort of vase. The name is announced and there is much rejoicing as it is believed that the hand of the boy is guided by the hand of God himself.
Whether or not Bishop Tawadros Theodorus II was elected in a more or less democratic way than the president or the general secretary or the archbishop is, strangely, debatable. While the tombola approach to voting might not be quite the TV-friendly quick-fix that the deficit-hit USA needs, the Coptics make for tantalising, traffic-stopping electoral entertainment. Now, who needs a new PM?