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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 16:24 GMT
Black voters' challenge for Bush
Colin Powell and George W Bush
Colin Powell's appointment has been seen as tokenism
By Malcolm Brabant in Miami

Statistics concerning the voting patterns of black voters in the United States look set to test President-elect George W Bush' s boast to be a leader who can unite the country.

Nine out of 10 blacks voted for Al Gore, according to an opinion poll carried out just after the US Supreme Court settled the election.

Black opinions on George W Bush
50% say he stole the election
39% say he won on a technicality
Only 7% of blacks believe that Mr Bush won fairly.

Thirty-nine percent think he won on a technicality, and 50% are convinced he stole the election.

Many subscribe to the view of Benny Thompson, an African-American congressman from Mississippi.

At a post-election rally in Miami, Mr Thompson said that the electoral irregularities in Florida were reminiscent of the old, racist Deep South.

Mr Bush's choices of General Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, and Condoleezza Rice, as National Security Advisor, have done nothing to soothe African-American fears.

'Tokenism'

As he accepted his nomination, General Powell said he was proud to have become the first black man to hold such an important office, but some members of the House of Representatives black caucus describe the appointments as tokenism.

Demonstrator in Florida
Many African Americans felt they were disenfranchised in Florida
Al C Hastings, a congressman from south Florida, said they didn't translate to 'Annie May', the average black woman.

He said Mr Bush could only succeed if he did twice as much for African-Americans as Bill Clinton, who is perceived as having done more for minorities than any other president.

That would mean helping black communities to share in America's unprecedented prosperity and to address their concerns over jobs, education and housing.

Unemployment may be at an all-time low nationwide, but, in some of Miami's black ghettos, the jobless rate is 70%.

Political pressure

Mr Bush could improve his ratings with African-Americans if his administration can ensure that there will be no repeat of the voting irregularities that have re-opened the nation's racial divide.

But, if he is serious about implementing the more controversial elements of his manifesto - such as the $1.3 trillion tax cut and social security reform, the president-elect will need to split the opposition and attract votes from conservative, white Democrats in Congress.

Mr Bush is under pressure from hard-line Republicans to fulfill his campaign promises, but the price of doing so will be to further alienate African-Americans.

The manner of Mr Bush's victory most probably means that he will never manage to win over a community which feels so badly cheated.

After the chaos in Florida, the new administration is obliged to ensure that every vote really does count in the future, and Mr Bush knows that right now nine out of 10 blacks are hoping that the voting systems will work properly in 2004 so that they can send him straight back to Texas.

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16 Dec 00 | Americas
Pressure mounts for electoral reform
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