With less than two weeks to go, the 2016 US Presidential election, one of the world’s most highly anticipated quadrennial events, will take place on Nov 8. The election outcome will not only shape the the immediate future of the US but also have implications for international affairs.
The US, the world’s only superpower, has played a leading role in tackling international issues such as climate change, terrorism, territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, and, of course, the behemoth 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
The presidential election is being contested by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a veteran politician, and the Republican nominee Donald Trump, an enigmatic businessman turned politician. Looking at the current national polls in which Ms Clinton has a considerable lead in both the popular vote and electoral college projections, it is hard to see anything but a sizeable Clinton victory.
Nonetheless, US citizens on Nov 8 will not only elect the next president of the most powerful nation in the world, but also their Congress members, state governors, state legislators, city mayors and other public officers. These players all have different but important roles in the realm of American politics.
With regards to the Congressional elections, all 435 members of the House of Representatives (or the Lower House) and 34 senators of the 100-member Senate will be up for re-election this year. Most polls currently suggest that the Lower House should remain Republican-dominated, albeit their majority should be reduced; while in a tight race, the Senate could flip and become Democrat-majority.
Neither party, however, will secure a super-majority of 60 seats to overcome the notorious filibuster in the Senate. This means that it is almost certain that the legislative branch will remain virtually dysfunctional just like it has been for many years.
This has important ramifications given the country’s famous balance-of-power system of government. The president alone will not achieve as much as he or she aspires to without a cooperative Congress.
A dysfunctional Congress means that the passing or ratification of major laws or trade agreements, including the TPP, will be challenging. The presidency of Barack Obama is the case in point where the ambitious leader has been invariably frustrated by a chronically uncooperative Congress.
Specifically on the TPP, the chances of it being ratified by the Congress within its mandated two-year window period, which ends next year, look very slim.
The TPP can be ratified in two different periods: following the election on Nov 8 but before the new president takes office on Jan 20, the so-called “lame-duck period”; and the period after the new president takes office. The chances of ratifying the TPP during the lame-duck period are slim but still possible given that Mr Obama would still be president.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely because both the House leader, Paul Ryan, and the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, have said they will not introduce the bill into their respective chambers before the new administration takes over as it does not seem to have enough votes to pass.
Although many Congress members have shown their support for this trade deal, it remains strongly opposed by many others on both sides of the aisle, especially as anti-trade sentiment remains strong as a result of this election cycle.
The chance of the TPP being ratified in the second period is even slimmer. This is because of two reasons. Firstly, both Ms Clinton and Mr Trump have come out against the deal. Secondly, the composition of the new Congress will almost certainly comprise more Democrats who in general oppose the TPP. This further dampens the TPP’s prospects.
Therefore, after considering the aforementioned possibilities, TPP is very unlikely to be ratified regardless of the election outcome. With Ms Clinton’s history of support of the free trade agenda, it is possible that she may attempt to renegotiate the TPP or pursue an entirely new trade deal if elected president.
A President Trump, on the other hand, is likely to engage in protectionist policies and disengage from international affairs. This could mean the end of multilateral trade deals involving the US for some time.
The likely prospect of the TPP not being ratified is probably beneficial to Thailand regardless of who wins the presidency.
For a Clinton presidency, it would give us a chance to get back to the negotiating table again. Ms Clinton has always been a strong supporter of free trade in general, even though she has come out against the PPP.
With a Trump presidency, it would give us peace of mind that Asean nations like Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, who are parties to the TPP, will have to start from square one.
We may then all have to start turning to China for leadership for new multilateral trade agreements.
Natchapol Praditpetchara and Kantaphon Amornrat are researchers at the Bangkok-based Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).
First published: Bangkok Post on Wednesday, October 26, 2016