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World: Analysis From Washington -- Laughter And Legitimacy

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 13 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Many in countries with few democratic traditions -- and especially those where the United States has promoted free and fair elections -- have been almost gleeful about the still unresolved American presidential vote.

In the days since the November 7 election failed to give either George W. Bush or Al Gore a majority in the electoral college, political leaders, commentators, and ordinary citizens around the world have suggested that this impasse should restrain Washington from giving advice to others in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested early on that his government was prepared to help the Americans with their election "if need be," pointedly noting that the head of the Russian election commission just happened to be in the United States at the time.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque then suggested that "those in the United States who have always tried to become judges of the elections that take place elsewhere must be receiving a lesson of modesty and humbleness."

And former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said on Saturday that "the recent scandal in the U.S. election shows just how hollow their democratic claims are." He added that the electoral difficulties demonstrate that "democracy is invalid there."

Even inside the United States, many people who had given little thought to election procedures and especially to the electoral college that elects a president have been troubled by the failure of the system to produce a winner as quickly as they had expected.

Some of these people carried signs in Florida reading "Re-vote or revolt!" while others suggested that the time had come to drop the electoral college altogether and elect the president by direct popular vote alone.

And editorialists and ordinary Americans divided on the fight over recounts and the apparent decision of both the Bush and Gore camps to go to court to try to ensure that their rights and those of their supporters were fully guaranteed.

But both inside and outside the United States, many of those unhappy with the outcome thus far have been proceeding with a quiet confidence that the system will work and that there will be a president-elect who will take power legitimately on January 20.

Editorialists and academic experts every day have pointed to the political education many Americans are getting as a result of this process. And they have argued that the spectacle has reaffirmed the faith of Americans in the process rather than shattered it.

Writing in the "Washington Post" on Sunday, former Democratic Party National chairman Robert Strauss spoke for many when he said that "the United States of America is not in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Nor should it be. Nor, I expect, will it be."

And abroad there were if anything even more enthusiastic expressions of confidence in the American system. A Japanese banker said that "we probably have foul-ups just like that in Japan, but the people would never be told."

"I see the reports each day and think," he said, "what a splendid democracy they have in America! They tell the people the bad things as well as the good."

And British columnist Ann Leslie noted in London's "Daily Mail" that she has "fallen in love with America all over again" -- precisely because of the problems the U.S. has had with its vote and the way that nation has dealt with them.

"I did not see any tanks massing," she wrote. "There were no rioters; there was no tear gas; no smoke rising from distant burning villages. What other country in the world, however fallibly, believes so firmly in the rule of law?" But perhaps the most thoughtful comment came from a country with a much briefer democratic experience. Writing in Moscow's "Segodnya" on Friday, journalist Leonid Radzikhovsky drew the following conclusion:

"If Russia split 50/50 over who should be president, it would mean civil war. In the United States, they do a recount. This is why we live this way. Us -- cynical, fed up, and smart. And them -- naive, cheerful, and rich."