Pakistanis may be taking a certain, but of necessity vicarious, pleasure, in the presidential election that has come upon them, but it is almost surely not as important to the world that the USA also has an election year. But while this has only been made an election year because Pervez Musharraf chose to resign rather than face a long-drawn impeachment process borrowed from the USA itself, that this would be an American election year was carved in stone when their constitution was adopted over two centuries ago. Pakistan was not due for a presidential election until 2012, Musharraf having been re-elected only last year, and unlike Pakistan, a presidential resignation does not in the USA cause a fresh election, but succession by the vice-president, of which Pakistan has none. But the American election process has been moving farther and farther, to the point where the Iowa caucuses, which take place a year before the actual presidential poll, are considered the first time that candidates actually get in touch with voters. They are supposed to get in touch with voters some time in early October, after being nominated by their parties, but the process of party nomination has also been placed in the hands of the ordinary voter, though mostly if members of the party concerned, through a party primary process, hereby the voters elect the delegates to the national nominating convention on the basis of their pledges to vote for a particular candidate. Therefore, the parties, even where they have picked a candidate after a bitter and divisive intra-party fight, come up with candidates who have been tested all over the country for their ability to garner votes. Obviously, it goes without saying that the candidates can in theory be anybody, but they have to win the nomination of one of the major parties first. Because though the election itself is of presidential electors committed, state by state, to vote for one or the other of the candidates, the actual voting is done by the electorate (or rather the half that does bother to vote), and thus it is useful to the party grandees to have a tested candidate. Perhaps that is why, unlike the past, the USA has seen the two major parties nominating candidates with proven track records of vote-getting, even if it be in a limited area, and only one nomination of a serving general in the 20th century, as opposed to several in the 19th. However, the American example does not apply entirely to Pakistan, because in Pakistan the election will see voting only by members of the national and provincial legislators themselves, as opposed to electors, elected only for that occasion, though equal in number to the number of legislators, with the provincial (or rather, state) legislatures also having no share. It is thus theoretically possible to win the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote, though this happened only in 2000, when George Bush narrowly lost the ballots cast by the American people, but won the election because the American Supreme Court gave a decision that made him the winner in the state of Florida. Moreover, last time the election almost went to the stage of being decided by the House of Representatives, which is provided in the US constitution but never acted upon because the situation has not arisen. However, that 'dubious' verdict did not affect George Bush's ability to act decisively, in the face of an increasing tide of militancy, most particularly 9/11. He has been criticised for the starting of the War On Terror, especially for the war in Iraq, but even before his win in 2004, which saw him win a majority of votes, both among the people as well as in the electoral college, his legitimacy as president was not questioned. But he has been affected by the term limit (two four-year terms) introduced in the US constitution in the 22nd Amendment of 1951. Previously there had been an unwritten convention limiting president's to two terms, dating back to George Washington's decision to have only two terms as president, but the two-term limit was well and truly violated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who went for a third, and then a fourth, term, using World War II as the pretext. That example should have prompted George Bush to follow his example, but he was made by the constitutional term limit to stand aside. In principle, his vice-president should have been the leading contender to succeed him, but Dick Cheney had too many minuses. Perhaps the biggest was over his health. Americans require their president's to be healthy, while Cheney has a history of heart disease. Cheney was also thus free to be presented as the neo-con brain of the administration, which he was. He was supposed to understand foreign policy, over which he had an important, though not final, role. Because of him, the Democrats' Barack Obama picked Senator Joe Biden, who has been the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and been its ranking member since 2001. The 2008 US presidential election will be remembered as the first time since 1960 that any party, let alone both, ran US senators as their presidential candidates. Usually, the primaries led to the picking of former state governors, who ultimately won (like Carter of Georgia in 1976, Reagan of California in 1980, Bill Clinton of Arkansas in 1992 and George Bush of Texas in 2000). But senators have more of a chance of winning the national name-recognition that translates into primary victories, and this inherent bias of the system seems to have worked in this election. While Obama has picked Biden as his vice-presidential nominee, Republican Senator John McCain has picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who first was elected to this office in 2006, and who at 44 is young enough to offset fears about the health risks of a McCain presidency. Be that as it may, Americans are thus faced with astounding choices. Previously, president's and vice-president's have been white Protestant males. Now, Americans must choose between a black president (and a white Protestant male Veep) or a white Protestant male president (and a female Veep). The last time a major-party candidate chose a woman for Veep was only once, when Walter Mondale of the Democrats picked Geraldine Ferraro. He lost, and the conventional wisdom was that she lost him the election. The USA will probably go for a Republican, and thus ensure continuity in time of war. In the process, new conventional wisdom will be written: that blacks are unelectable (thus ensuring that Americans continue to practice the kind of racism that has made its war against Muslims possible). E-mail: