The whole world is watching the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. presidential race. And the whole world is wondering what is going on.
Leaders around the world saw former vice president Joe Biden strengthen his path to the White House on Friday after taking the lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania — two states that are critical for any chance of President Trump winning a second term.
But Trump’s unsubstantiated attacks on the vote count continued to overshadow preliminary results. Officials and newspapers around the world lamented the polarization and dysfunction in the world’s oldest Western democracy.
- Saturday editions of international newspapers reported on increasing expectations of a Biden victory while noting Trump’s refusal to accept defeat.
- Legal challenges by Trump are leaving world leaders wary of offering congratulatory messages if Biden secures the electoral votes needed to claim the White House.
- Germany’s foreign minister criticized Trump for “pouring oil on the fire” by issuing fraudulent claims against the voting process.
- China struck a conciliatory note toward Washington, citing “broad common interests and space for cooperation.”
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump ally, called for “humility” as the election count neared its end.
In a speech late Friday, Biden did not declare victory but said the numbers point to a Democratic win. He also addressed the president’s attacks on the vote count process: “Democracy works. Your vote will be counted. I don’t care how hard people try to stop it. I will not let it happen.”
Throughout Friday, it was clear that the image of American democracy has taken a battering, as had the country’s reputation as a dependable ally.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, criticized Trump for “pouring oil on the fire” by issuing fraudulent claims against the voting process. “It’s not a game. It’s a democracy,” Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, admonished in an interview with the BBC.
Even Bolsonaro, a staunch Trump ally and fellow firebrand populist, ventured that the U.S. president “is not the most important person in the world,” noting the need for “humility.”
With Trump vowing to fight the results possibly all the way to the Supreme Court, other officials around the globe chose to keep their distance, offering comments that were cautious and nuanced — at least for now.
“We can’t issue a statement. We shouldn’t talk about the elections in the United States, because the process isn’t over yet and we have to be very cautious,” Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, told journalists. “We will only make a declaration once the U.S. authorities decide” on the winner.
“If I were a voter in America, I don’t think I’d want anybody in another government commenting on my election,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News. “I think while the votes are being counted we should wait and see.”’
There was also the lingering sting from the drawn-out battle to decide the U.S. election in 2000, when some messages of congratulation were sent, rescinded and eventually sent again.
“Those who are congratulating the president-elect want to be sure that is the president-elect,” said a senior European Union diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic issue.
After Biden pulled ahead in Pennsylvania, Sturgeon tweeted: “The world can be a dark place at times just now — but today we are seeing a wee break in the clouds.”
The disruptions in normal protocols were another blow to the global image of America and its flawed, but nevertheless admired, model of democracy. It is clear that the country’s break from global institutions and norms under Trump will also not be soon forgotten — and will probably saddle Biden with the difficult task of rebuilding trust.
In Germany, Maas, the foreign minister, criticized Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results and said the United States is not a “one-man show.”
“Anyone who continues to pour oil on the fire in a situation like this is acting irresponsibly,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Funke media group. “Decent losers are more important for the functioning of a democracy than radiant winners.”
Donald Trump Jr.’s call on Twitter for a “total war” over the election struck with particular resonance. Bild, Germany’s biggest tabloid, said the “words brought back memories of the infamous speech by Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels” when he called for “total war” as Germany lost the upper hand in World War II.
Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who struck a close friendship with Trump, expressed concern over the wider fallout of U.S. “turmoil and confusion because of the election.”
News outlets abroad were similarly alarmed. Britain’s Economist said Trump’s “populism will live on in America.” Even if a Biden administration were to restore alliances, it said, “everyone will know that it could all revert again in 2024.”
The Guardian reflected in an editorial on the “deep weaknesses” in American democracy and how it painted a bleak picture ahead, suggesting that the possibility of a Democratic-controlled White House and a Republican-majority Senate spelled more gridlock and acrimony.
Saturday editions of international newspapers reported on rising expectations that Trump would be a one-term president. “Trump’s downfall,” read the headline on the front page of Australia’s Canberra Times. “Desperate and bitter president lashes out as walls close in.” The West Australian headlined its Saturday edition with “You’re fired Don!” Aftab-e Yazd, an Iranian reformist newspaper, declared on its front page, “A world without Trump.”
While some around the world poked fun at the slow-moving U.S. vote count, others appreciated the strength of the system. “We can all joke about how painfully long America is taking to count its votes. But it also underlines that every vote actually counts in their system,” said Nidhi Razdan, a journalist in India.
As they waited, government officials and citizens around the world pondered the implications of a potential Biden presidency.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu broke his government’s silence on the election cliffhanger, saying that the country’s relations with the United States are “above politics” and that NATO ally Turkey has “worked with Democrats and Republicans.” But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has developed a close personal relationship with Trump, could face a testier relationship with Biden, who has called Erdogan an “autocrat.”
A leader of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Yossi Dagan, said Friday that a Biden victory does not necessarily mean the end of efforts to annex the communities into Israel proper. Biden strongly opposed the annexation plan and is expected to take a much dimmer view than Trump of any expansion of the settlements.
Dagan said he expects Biden to be too preoccupied with the U.S. coronavirus crisis to pay much attention to the settlements, but he added that Israel must present a strong front to the new administration.
Some noted that even if elected, Biden would struggle to enact effective foreign policies with a Republican-controlled Senate. “He could rejoin the Paris accord on climate change. But he cannot force a Republican Senate to fund alternative energy,” wrote Edward Luce in the Financial Times on Friday. “He could rejoin the World Health Organization, but he would need [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell to authorise U.S. funding for the body. He could bring America back into the Iran nuclear deal but any changes would have to be approved by the U.S. Senate.”
Across the Middle East, people created entertaining memes and videos about the election, forwarded en masse to their contacts on WhatsApp. Various iterations of the same meme circulated: Arab men standing around, drably cracking sunflower seeds in an image overlaid with the text, “Arabs following the U.S. election drama knowing whoever gets elected is gonna bomb their region anyway.”
China’s government, which has largely remained silent about the election in recent days, struck a conciliatory note. Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said he hoped the next U.S. administration would work with China on issues of mutual interest.
“Despite disagreements between the two countries, there are broad common interests and space for cooperation,” Le told reporters during an appearance at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing.
Denmark’s former prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, tweeted a picture of himself walking away from the office, a backpack slung over his shoulder, on his final day last year after his party lost parliamentary elections. “The right way to leave office with honor,” he wrote. Later Friday, he tweeted “congratulations President-elect @JoeBiden.”
Denyer reported from Tokyo; Khurshudyan from Moscow; Noack from Berlin; and Berger, Mellen and Rauhala from Washington. Jennifer Hassan in London; Gerry Shih in Taipei; Niha Masih in New Delhi; Loveday Morris in Berlin; Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo; Amar Nadhir and Adam Taylor in Washington; Sarah Dadouch in Beirut; Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem; Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia; Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico City; Kareem Fahim in Istanbul; and Shibani Mahtani and David Crawshaw in Hong Kong contributed to this report.