World watches, worries and wags a finger as election count dragged on

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AND JIM WATSON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/TNS

BY SHANK BENGALI AND LAURA KING
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

SINGAPORE — Transfixed by a U.S. presidential vote that failed to swiftly yield a clear winner, a watching world responded Wednesday with a mixture of worry, disbelief and, in some quarters, scorn.

Many foreign allies weighed in with precisely the kind of counsel that U.S. diplomats and officials for generations have handed down whenever shaky democracies stood at a political crossroads: Let the voting process play out, and let’s hope it’s a fair one.

In much of the world, ordinary people and governments alike had already internalized the prospect that this divisive electoral contest might drag on for days or even weeks.

But still, it was a morning-after laden with a sense of the surreal — that the United States, which for so long held itself up as a flawed but inspirational political model, had come to this.

Alliances over personalities

In South Korea, an editorial cartoon in the Hankyoreh newspaper depicted a shattered Statue of Liberty, with President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden tussling amid the fragments and each yelling: “I won!”

Traditional U.S. allies in Europe, who watched the erosion of trans-Atlantic ties under Trump with trepidation, had already signaled a willingness to work with whoever emerged victorious, saying that longtime strategic alliances overrode political personalities.

But a few senior government officials, noting Trump’s demands that vote counting be halted and his false claim to have won the election, expressed open dismay over the tense aftermath of the balloting. German Defense Minister Annegret KrampKarrenbauer, speaking on ZDF television, called the situation “explosive.”

“It is a situation of which experts rightly say it could lead to a constitutional crisis in the U.S.,” she said. “That is something that must certainly worry us very much.”

High stakes

Others apprehensively eying the discord made clear the high stakes beyond American shores. Penny Wong, the leader of the opposition in the Australian Senate, pointed to “historic numbers” of Americans voting in this election.

“They deserve to have their voices heard. The democratic process must be respected, even when it takes time,” Wong wrote on Twitter. “It’s in Australia’s interest that America remains a credible, stable democracy.”

Some said that whatever the ultimate outcome, the U.S. failure to decisively repudiate Trump would embolden strongman leaders elsewhere, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On restoring order

Richard Heydarian, a Manilabased political analyst, said the hard-fought vote was a boon for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has faced little pressure from Washington over his violent crackdown on political opponents, rights workers and alleged drug users, which has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings.

“Were we to have a (Biden) landslide early on, then it would have made it easier for the world to say 2016 was an aberration, and it was time to clean up the mess,” said Heydarian. “Biden, with strong momentum, could have restored international order and focused on human rights, multilateralism and climate change. Now all of that is out the window.”

Some said the tumultuous scenario that unfolded Wednesday was in line with expectations.

“Trump has given indication a long time ago he was going to declare victory once in-person voting goes his way, and cast doubt on mail-ins,” said Calvin Cheng, a businessman and former lawmaker in Singapore.

On their own?

But Trump’s attempt to pronounce the race over before all ballots were counted could undermine U.S. calls for free and fair elections abroad, particularly in Myanmar, which goes to the polls Sunday for only the second time since a military junta relinquished its monopoly on power.

“I think the days when the West could micromanage change in other people’s countries are long gone,” said historian Thant Myint-U, author of “The Hidden History of Burma.” “If recent crises in the West, including whatever may now come in America, tell us anything, it’s that the rest of the world (has) to figure things out for themselves.”

While reaction was muted among the most Trump-friendly leaders while the final result was up in the air, a few were ready to go all-in on the prospect of a second term for the president.

Those included Janez Jansa, the right-wing prime minister of Slovenia, first lady Melania Trump’s native country. He claimed on Twitter that it was “pretty clear that American people have elected Donald Trump.”

But hours after the tweet, it still wasn’t.

Staff writers Victoria Kim in Seoul and David Pierson in Singapore contributed to this report. 

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