Here are the latest developments:
- America’s global image as a model for other democracies to follow takes another battering.
- The deepening divisions on display in the United States make painful viewing for U.S. allies and friends.
- President Trump’s surprisingly strong showing, despite mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, leaves many bewildered and asking whether Trumpism is here to stay.
- Asian markets shrugged off the uncertainty to record decent gains, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 reaching a nine-month high and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index up more than 3 percent.
Asian and European stock markets shrugged off the prospect of a contentious and contested U.S. election result to record further gains on Thursday, but America’s global image as a model for other democracies to emulate has taken yet another battering, especially among its allies around the globe.
In Japan, America’s closest ally in Asia and a country whose postwar constitution was largely written by Americans, the slow vote count dominated television news and made for painful watching for many.
Its Mainichi newspaper lamented the “disorder and divide” around the elections and said the events even called into question “the intrinsic value of democracy.”
“Even though the riots that had been feared didn’t take place on election day, we’re surprised that this is the reality of the United States, a country that has been considered a model democracy for Japan,” it wrote in an editorial. “The responsibility for fanning the divide and amplifying the confusion lies with Mr. Trump.”
After Trump falsely declared victory before the votes were counted on election night, he spent much of Wednesday leveling allegations of electoral fraud without evidence. His campaign has since announced legal challenges to determine which votes will count. Days of court battles and political uncertainty lie ahead. Many fear violence.
Role model no more?
U.S. leaders preaching about global human rights and democracy when the country’s own political system is so affected by money and divisiveness, and its own foreign policy record so marked by support for dictators and its own economic interests, has always carried more than a whiff of hypocrisy for many observers.
Anand Mahindra, a prominent industrialist in India remarked Thursday that while the electoral process “has been a unifying force” in his country, the U.S. electoral system has had the opposite impact in America and is “deepening” polarization.
The idea of American democracy, albeit an imperfect one, was still something that could inspire.
“America has represented optimism, looking forward, and ideas,” said Tatsuhiko Yoshizaki, chief economist at Sojitz Research Institute in Tokyo. “And yet, over the past four years, we have come to see the dark side in the United States.”
In South Korea, another U.S. ally, the division on display in the United States held up a painful mirror to its own democracy, which has also become extremely polarized.
“The chaos in the so-called advanced democracy of the United States sparks concerns that we are not much different,” the Seoul Shinmun newspaper wrote in an editorial, calling on the South Korean public to keep their own leaders accountable.
“Despite having third-class politicians, if South Korean people show first-rate manners, we can make a better democracy than the United States.”
In France, though, offered a hopeful assessment on Thursday, saying the country’s strong democratic values would ensure the correct results. “I have faith in U.S. institutions validating the results of the election,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.
Governments across Asia have largely refrained from meaningful comment, preferring to wait until one candidate has conceded defeat.
But newspapers were not so circumspect.
Trump’s speech declaring victory as ballots were still being counted sparked alarm in India, the world’s most populous democracy.
The move marked a “distinctly authoritarian turn” that overshadowed a “relatively peaceful election exercise in the world’s oldest democracy,” wrote The Hindu newspaper in an editorial. Trump’s statement amounted to a demand that legally-cast ballots not be counted, which would imply an “unprecedented attempt at mass voter suppression,” it wrote.
In Indonesia, social media was abuzz with Trump’s declaration of early victory, a move reminiscent of a presidential hopeful in their own country, Prabowo Subianto who lost last year’s election but continued to claim victory and encourage his supporters to protest. The ex-army general is now the defense minister.
In China, a number of publications have taken the opportunity of the election to crow about the shortcomings of the American system.
American-style democracy is now a “joke” with clear “double standards,” said an editorial in the Ta Kung Pao newspaper in Hong Kong, controlled by China’s liaison office in the city.
“One can feel the anxiety for potential chaos seeing metal fences and security being hastily installed around the White House,” the editorial said. “The American election has became a global joke.”
Still, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng voiced hopes on Thursday about repairing bilateral relations after the election. “I hope the new U.S. administration will meet China halfway,” Le said, according to CNBC, despite the “disagreements between China and the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautioned that the election uncertainty might have negative impacts on the world economy, adding that Russia would wait “for some clarity” before responding to the results.
Markets stay strong
Russia’s concerns over negative economic ripple effects were not reflected on world markets on Thursday, however.
Indeed, the sense that a win for Joe Biden — which looked more possible after he clinched Wisconsin and Michigan — might offer a respite in the bitter contest between Beijing and Washington did help push up share markets in China. The Shanghai Composite Index rose around 1.3 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index gained more than 3.2 percent.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index breached 24,000 for the first time in nine months, closing around 1.7 percent higher. Seoul’s Kospi index rose around 2.4 percent, buoyed by the idea that political gridlock in Washington, potentially with a Democrat in the White House and Republicans still controlling the Senate, reduced the chances of regulations that would weigh down the IT sector. In Europe, the FTSE 100 index and the STOXX 600 were also up after markets opened.
“All this talk of a contested election was supposed to cause a massive pickup in volatility,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone Group in Melbourne. “We haven’t seen that at all. The market’s seeing this as a smooth resolution: That Trump can go for the recount, it’s going to come up with the same result. He can bring his lawyers into the play, and it’s not going to change the outcome.”
America beset by crises
Elsewhere around the world, news outlets abroad focused on the dispute over the vote count in their Thursday editions.
Vatan Emrooz, a conservative Iranian newspaper, ran a picture of Trump below the words “They stole my votes,” and an image of Biden and the words “All votes must be counted.” Another Iranian newspaper, Shargh, ran photos of both candidates with the headline “Brawl.”
The National, one of the United Arab Emirates state-owned English language dailies, lamented the divisions in the United States amid the pandemic, economic crisis and now the elections.
“At a time when the nation should be pulling together with what the British would call Blitz spirit, the streets of many cities have been the setting for what appear to be the beginnings of civil strife,” it wrote in an editorial.
Another UAE paper, the Gulf News, carried a political cartoon showing a figure representing America headed into the dark tunnel labeled “constitutional crisis.”
Other countries were baffled that the coronavirus did not appear to be a bigger election issue, even as Wednesday saw daily new coronavirus cases in the United States exceed 100,000 for the first time.
Trump had been guilty of a “chronic mishandling of the covid-19 pandemic,” according to an editorial on New Zealand’s Stuff news site, “but as with so many other aspects of this massively unpredictable year, it was hard to tell what role it played in the final result.”
But in one country at least, the U.S. election appeared not to cause any ripples. North Korean state media carried absolutely no mention of the vote on Thursday, focusing instead on a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly that discussed tightened laws against smoking.
Denyer reported from Tokyo. Paul Schemm in Dubai, Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo, Min Joo Kim in Seoul, Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong, Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow and Joanna Slater and Niha Masih in New Delhi contributed to this report.