Tight American election transfixes world, fuels fears over U.S. democracy


Across the world, viewers watched the results trickle in the race between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Financial markets were choppy in the absence of a conclusive result.

The two rivals wrangling for leadership of the world’s largest economy and its most powerful military have presented deeply contrasting visions for the United States’ role internationally. Trump has charted a more unilateral approach that has eschewed alliances and international agreements, while Biden has promised a return to America’s more traditional role — something many of its foes and rivals would not welcome.

Worries over U.S. democracy in Europe

European media outlets led their websites with headlines suggesting the United States was on the brink of collapse.

“America looks into the abyss with close scrutiny and Trump’s threat to go to the Supreme Court,” read one headline in Spain’s El País newspaper. “Trump wants to go to the Supreme Court, but offers no meaningful grounds,” wrote the German Spiegel newsweekly. “The troubling spectacle wouldn’t be as worrying if at the heart of the pushed-to-the-extreme tension weren’t, simply, democracy,” offered one opinion piece in France’s Le Monde.

“Donald Trump hasn’t lost, but then again, Joe Biden hasn’t won. Rule nothing out, except maybe optimism,” wrote the Guardian opinion columnist Marina Hyde, under the headline “OK, America, so what the hell happens now?”

“This is a very explosive situation,” she said on German television channel ZDF. “This is a situation that can lead to a constitutional crisis in the U.S., as experts are rightly saying. And it is something that must cause us great concern.”

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, said that the hours and days ahead were crucial “for the integrity of U.S. democracy,” while Finland’s former prime minister Alexander Stubb called the election “a stress test” for American democracy. “I still want to believe in resilience of its democratic institutions, but am worried about the speech that we just heard from @realDonaldTrump,” he said.

Former British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted, “Dear American friends … The reputation of democracy is at stake and the world is watching. Please proceed carefully.”

Penny Wong, a leading opposition lawmaker in Australia, urged that democracy be allowed to take its course and for all votes to be counted. “It’s in Australia’s interest that America remains a credible, stable democracy,” she tweeted. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s former conservative prime minister, simply said, “count every vote.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, however, batted away questions about any threat to democracy. “We are totally confident that the American system has the checks and balances to give us a definitive result, so we’ll wait and see,” he told BBC.

Trump does have his supporters in Europe, including the leaders of Slovenia and Hungary, who have expressed hopes for his reelection. “It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears,” tweeted Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

Far-right leaders in Europe hoped that a Trump victory would also give them a boost. France’s Marine Le Pen told the CNews broadcaster his win would be “better for France” because he believed in “the return of nations, for the return of patriotism, for the return of borders.” Le Pen is expected to be a formidable contender in France’s 2022 presidential elections.

Some Europeans worried that the uncertainty was sure to play into the hands of America’s adversaries. “The champagne corks are popping in Moscow and Beijing,” tweeted Jörg Wojahn, the European Commission’s top official in Germany.

One senior European security official said he feared that Russia and China would “misuse” the time before the inauguration if there is turbulence in Washington. “Everybody worries,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss security concerns.

If Trump is reelected, global affairs could be far more unstable, said a former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt. “The world sort of survived four years with a somewhat restrained Trump. But all the ‘adults’ are gone. A world with a triumphant Trump could well be a different thing,” he wrote on Twitter.

Markets uncertain as investors wait for clarity

Stock markets seesawed Wednesday as uncertainty mounted over the election result, and the chance of a contested outcome rose.

Shares had started the week strongly as investors bet that a decisive win by Biden and the Democrats could pave the way for another economic stimulus package. But U.S. S&P 500 index futures dipped sharply after President Trump prematurely claimed victory and threatened to take the contest to the Supreme Court.

That raised the specter of prolonged uncertainty. The dip, however, was relatively short-lived, as markets steadied once again.

Bob Shea, Chief Executive Officer at TrimTabs Asset Management in New York, told Reuters that people were defaulting toward the view that “‘Trump is good for the market,’ so why not just buy now and cut to the chase.”

Asian markets were also volatile. The uncertainty sent traders toward safe havens of bonds and the U.S. dollar.

Mocking the elections

Regardless of the winner, the protracted battle over results and some of Trump’s statements seem to have damaged the image of U.S. democracy in the eyes of some commentators and invited comparisons with disputed contests in developing nations.

Oliver Dickson, a radio broadcaster in Johannesburg’s biggest city, called Trump’s premature declaration of victory “extraordinary” but “unsurprising to African political pundits.”

“The world predicted that. In Africa, that’s nothing new. Election rigging — essentially what Trump is doing — is a long-standing practice over here,” he added. “When a democracy is being hijacked, only its institutions can rescue it.”

In India, the world’s largest democracy where hundreds of millions of votes were tallied within hours during last year’s national elections, the slow counting drew some amused responses. “Looks like America needs to learn the art of counting from India,” quipped a leading anchor. One journalist hailed India’s election commission, an autonomous body tasked with conducting elections, calling the U.S. elections “shambolic.” Another said next time the country’s election commission could “help” the United States with counting.

Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the election proved that American democracy was not a standard to be followed, adding that “Nobody here would approve of such an approach.”

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council Commission on Information Policy, said Trump’s better-than-predicted performance set the scene for chaos. He said Biden had “failed to establish a decisive lead and now Trump is not going to ‘give up the victory.’ A sharp conflict is guaranteed.”

Ming Jinwei, deputy foreign editor of China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, meanwhile, described the United States as “without hope.”

“It is clear that the United States has problems with national competitiveness and social governance capacity, and that it needs serious and profound internal reforms,” said a Global Times editorial, applying Chinese Communist Party lingo in its description of the United States.

In Hong Kong, however, the pro-democracy crowd was firmly behind another term for Trump. Many of the activists who see Trump as their savior in their fight against Beijing were cheering on the president.

A group of Trump supporters in Hong Kong filmed a YouTube video in support of his campaign, saying Trump was the only one who could fight the Chinese Communist Party. A local YouTuber, who goes by the name Stormtrooper, told his 15,000 viewers that Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris would be more inclined to help the Chinese government than Trump.

One of the countries most affected by the Trump presidency has been Iran, after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions on the country.

President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, however, reiterated the country’s stance that it was not important who won the U.S. election but rather that the United States respect international treaties.

Trump has said he wants to negotiate a new treaty with Iran that would curtail its nuclear program and its ballistic missile program, something which Tehran has categorically rejected.

Dou reported from Seoul, Dixon from Moscow and Birnbaum from Riga, Latvia. Shibani Mahtani and Theodora Yu in Hong Kong; Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow; Niha Masih and Taniya Dutta in New Delhi; Paul Schemm in Dubai; Lyric Li and Liu Yang in Beijing and Simon Denyer in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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