US election: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to quit

Democratic National Committee chair announces resignation as fallout of leaked emails deepens on eve of convention.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, party members grappled to contain a crisis brought about by a trove of leaked emails that confirmed suspicions the party was biased against former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

As the fallout continued, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Sunday that she would step down after the convention, which begins Monday. 

Her tentative resignation came after emails, leaked by Wikileaks, seemed to confirm allegations by Sanders’ campaign that the party was secretly supporting presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

The incident will most likely widen the chasm between supporters of the two camps, as Clinton vies for their support the week she is to be officially nominated as the party’s presidential candidate.

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Earlier on Sunday, Schultz was taken off the speakers’ list for the convention – a clear snub and a rarity for any party chair. Pressure on Schultz increased further after Sanders called for her resignation.

Later on Sunday, Sanders issued a statement saying that by resigning, Schultz “made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party”.

“The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

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Meanwhile, thousands of Sanders’ supporters assembled in Philadelphia on Sunday to march from city hall to a nearby park, voicing their anger over they said was a clear attempt at sabotaging the Sanders campaign.

“The short-term fallout is [that] Wasserman Schultz is marginalised at the convention and is out of office very soon,” said David Meyer, professor of political science at UC Irvine.

“She will probably continue to hold her seat in the House of Representatives though. But nobody is surprised that the party favoured Clinton.”

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Democrats are also scrambling to unite their front: Clinton and Sanders supporters agreed to form a “unity commission” to limit the role of superdelegates – those who are not bound to vote as per primary results – in the next election cycle.

This was a point of contention in the lead up to the DNC: Sanders won a high number of primaries and caucuses, but superdelegates – party members free to back the candidate of their choice – still voted for Clinton.

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“Clinton needs to make sure she has the Bernie backers on her side,” said Patrick Meirick, director of the Political Communication Centre, a research institution and archive of political advertisements at the University of Oklahoma.

“I expect to see some conciliatory noises toward the concerns of Sanders supporters. We already saw her make some changes on the platform.”

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Clinton has hurdles to overcome this week, one of which is “consolidating the base on the one hand and reaching out to the general electorate on the other hand,” Meirick told Al Jazeera.

“I think that Clinton up to this point has embraced the Obama legacy and has not really addressed political shakeups of the system per se.”

Philadelphia is meanwhile bracing for a round of protests throughout the four-day Democratic National Convention, where delegates are converging to formally nominate Clinton as their presidential candidate.

More than 50,000 people are expected to arrive in the city, including various disparate groups that will demonstrate for different causes, among them legalising marijuana, poverty and homelessness, policing and environmental issues.

At least one group will attempt to hold the world’s largest “fart-in” by having a large bean meal shortly prior, in protest against the “rhetorical flatulence of Hillary Clinton”, according to local activist Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

“The idea behind this is that this whole process stinks, and that we can’t have a revolution under any corporate control of either political party,” Honkala told Al Jazeera.

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“I know that the Democratic Party doesn’t give a damn about people in this country, and no way would they have given an independent socialist [Senator Bernie Sanders] control over it.”

Philadelphia City officials are preparing for potentially rowdy demonstrations, as more than 20 protest permits have been issued. The police force has 5,200 members, but the mayor’s office would not disclose to Al Jazeera how many of those would be dispatched to ensure law and order.

The last time Philadelphia hosted a national convention in 2000, nearly 400 people were arrested, some pre-emptively, when police raided a warehouse where protesters had gathered to prepare for demonstrations.

Last year, the city hosted Pope Francis, drawing more than a million visitors, without any major security incidents.

Barricades are already up outside the Wells Fargo Centre, where the convention is being held, and high-calibre guests will be speaking, including US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton.

“For security reasons, all we can say is that we also have specialised units involved, and a security parameter will be put in place around the main event centre,” said Lauren Hitt, communications director for Philadelphia’s mayor.

“We want to make sure that people are able to exercise their expression of the First Amendment safely.”

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Source: Al Jazeera