The international community is locked in a tense holding pattern as the world awaits the final outcome of a contested U.S. election with profound global consequences. Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump is yet projected to have the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the presidency, but Trump is aggressively and falsely claiming that not only did he win, but that the election is being stolen from him.
In that vacuum, some leaders abroad have chosen to issue only vague statements. “We respect the values of democracy and the checks and balances reflected in the US system, which we are very confident will produce a result,” Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary of America’s closest ally, Britain, said in a Wednesday morning interview on the BBC.
But others are being blunter, expressing their anxiety about what looks to be a world power in decline and their preference for a more measured process. Many of these statements sound akin to what U.S. officials routinely say about undemocratic developments in other countries.
Trump is risking “a constitutional crisis” amid a “very explosive situation,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the ZDF news network on Wednesday, saying the election should not be treated as settled.
“Americans have voted in historic numbers in this election. They deserve to have their voices heard,” Penny Wong, an Australian senator and the top foreign policy official for the country’s opposition Labour Party, tweeted. “The democratic process must be respected, even when it takes time.”
Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, sounded a note diplomats often use to avoid the appearance of interference by calling the process “purely an American affair” ― then urging the U.S. to be “in favour of international law and international legitimacy,” according to Reuters.
“Nobody – no politician, no elected official – should limit the people’s right to vote... Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions,” Michael Georg Link, with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said on Wednesday.
But even leaders who are intensely skeptical of America’s current electoral mess likely don’t want to overstep or damage relationships with the eventual winner. British lawmakers from both of the country’s major parties emphasized the importance of counting all votes.
And while many officials abroad, even large numbers of conservatives who view the Republican Party as practicing an extreme version of right-wing politics, were hoping for a Democratic win that might restore a more thoughtful U.S. foreign policy, they have been cautious about appearing partisan. Even those who were willing to do so on Wednesday largely couched their concern in a desire to see America’s democratic nature affirmed.
“Time to wait for the final results of #USAElections2020, in full respect of the electoral process,” tweeted Iratxe Garcia Perez, the Spanish leader of the biggest left-wing coalition in the European Parliament. “Trump’s behaviour undermines US democracy. Hoping that @JoeBiden will bring new hope both to US citizens and to the whole world.”
In South Korea, the newspaper Hankyoreh published a cartoon showing Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden fighting amid the rubble of the Statue of Liberty.
For now, the most dangerous scenario for democratic integrity hasn’t come to pass: Trump’s false claim of victory is not being echoed and given legitimacy internationally.
To the extent that’s happened, it’s in minor and predictable ways. Janez Janša, the right-wing prime minister of Slovenia, tweeted a congratulatory message to the GOP. “More delays and facts denying from #MSM, bigger the final triumph for #POTUS,” he continued, attacking the press as Trump often does.
Janša had endorsed Trump before the election and is viewed as a second-tier leader, at best, among influential Europeans.
The editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlin-funded media outlet formerly known as Russia Today, declared the election illegitimate on Twitter, promoting a yearslong Russian effort to undermine Americans’ faith in their system. Margarita Simonyan declared the process “neither free nor fair.”
“What a spectacle! One says this is the most fraudulent election in US history. Who says that? The president who is currently in office. His rival says Trump intends to rig the election! This is how #USElections & US democracy are,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted.
Repressive regimes like those in Moscow and Tehran want to raise doubt about democracy in large part to protect their own authoritarian rule, tactics and allies. Khamenei has brutally crushed protests at home, killing hundreds of his own citizens just months ago, and has helped Syrian dictator Bashar Assad massacre hundreds of thousands of people who challenged his rule as well as uninvolved civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also aided Assad.
There aren’t yet signs that, as some U.S. intelligence officials worried would happen, foreign powers are aggressively interfering with the process in a way that could create more chaos, helping Trump cling to power. That may be in part because of preemptive measures: On Tuesday, U.S. officials told The Washington Post they had launched a cyber-attack against Iran in the weeks before the election.
Still, lingering damage to the U.S.’s standing in the world is almost certainly guaranteed.
“This election was (sadly) not the repudiation of Trump and Trumpism that many of us hoped for. Even if Biden wins in the end, this will be relevant when it comes to selecting the 2024 GOP candidate. The age of populism isn’t over,” former British Justice Secretary David Gauke tweeted.
Guy Verhofstadt, a prominent Belgian member of the European Parliament, tweeted that “the chaos across the Atlantic” made him “more certain than ever that Europeans are stronger together in an uncertain world.”
And in South Korea, the newspaper Hankyoreh published a cartoon showing Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden fighting amid the rubble of the Statue of Liberty, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The world can’t just ignore the country that retains greater global influence than any other, however. So for now, many people abroad are simply hoping for good news.
“It’s in Australia’s interest that America remains a credible, stable democracy,” Wong wrote.