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Western Press Review: The U.S. Election Maze And Romania's Election

  • Don Hill

Prague, 28 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The spectacle of the United States tangled helplessly within a mesh of difficulties in managing the results of a democratic election continues to occupy press commentary both there and in Europe.

Here are some excerpts:


Writing from Washington in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, German commentator Stefan Cornelius directly addresses frontrunner candidate George W. Bush. The headline on his commentary reads, "You Ain't There Yet, Dubya." Cornelius says: "For the umpteenth time since November 7, Bush is demonstrating that he is more interested in a speedy assumption of power than he is in democratic legitimacy."


William Kristol, editor of the conservative U.S. Weekly Standard, says in a commentary published in today's New York Times that the runaway power of U.S. courts reaches a dangerous new apex when, "judges may now select the president of the United States." Kristol writes: "As president, [Bush] can build on [his record as Texas governor] by seeking reform of the legal system. He can propose federal tort reform, appoint judges who are more likely to respect the proper judicial role and use his bully pulpit to advance a more strict interpretation of the Constitution and the separation of powers."


The Washington Post, which endorsed Gore for president, now says in an editorial that it doubts that the courts should continue to intervene in the election and block a Bush victory. The paper's editorial argues: "The [Florida] state Supreme Court has intervened once, rightly, in our view, to knock aside a deadline that would have shut down the counting of votes prematurely. Because of that, Mr. Gore has had three weeks to overtake his rival and been unable to do so."


Spain's El Mundo daily says in an editorial that whoever wins the presidency, the United States itself has lost something. The paper writes: "Uncertainty will continue during one week more, thereby adding discredit to a system considered as a model for all." It goes on: "Whoever wins, it is clear that the new president will have to work hard during his mandate to bring back a legitimacy severely damaged by this endless fight."


Also in Spain, ABC calls the electoral results mixed, with the U.S.'s reputation for efficiency tarnished but its democracy is upheld. ABC's editorial says: "The electoral process has demonstrated an unacceptable level of inefficiency. [It was] a spectacular failure but, paradoxically, its inefficiency itself has contributed to destroying the theses of those who had doubts about strength of democracy."


Lluis Floix writes in Spain's La Vanguardia that, lacking for the moment any external enemies, the United States has created its own. Floix says in a commentary: "This fuss about the counting of votes is taking place in times when the United States is in the most golden moment ever, without serious enemies outside the country, with notable social and political peace inside and with an undisputed dominance in all fields. Americans are discovering that their system is also vulnerable," he adds. "Not because of the Soviets or any other foreign enemy, but from inside."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, commenting in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says that Al Gore has the legal right, but perhaps not a moral one, to continue to dispute in the courts the election outcome. Frankenberger says: "[Gore] now wants to challenge the official count in three Florida counties, arguing that results there were incomplete and incorrect. That may not testify to greatness, but it is Mr. Gore's right."


The New York Times says in an editorial that it approves of Gore's efforts to lay the election before the U.S. Supreme Court. In an editorial, the paper writes: "The pivotal issues raised by the election dispute now are headed toward final resolution in the Florida courts and the U.S. Supreme court. As a citizen as well as a candidate, Gore is entitled to make his case. The country, and the presidency, will be the stronger for it."


Los Angeles Times political writer Ronald Brownstein compares taking the election to court to choosing the nuclear option. Brownstein says: "However bad it has been, it is about to get worse. Any of the remaining options for George W. Bush and Al Gore after Sunday night's certification of Bush as the winner in Florida promises even more polarization and acrimony than their battle already has generated."


The Chicago Tribune argues flatly that Gore should quit now. The Tribune's editorial says: "There is a line, not all that fine, between perseverance and stubbornness. Al Gore is about to trip over that line and collapse with a thud."


Foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman writes in The New York Times that the post-election battle has revealed more about candidates Bush and Gore than either probably desired. Friedman says: "During the campaign, people said we don't know who Al Gore is but we know who George W. Bush is. Not anymore. If Bush wins it will be because much of what he told us he was, he's not. And if Gore wins it will be because everything we hoped he would be was sucked out of him by political consultants -- everything but what we already knew was there: the raw hunger to win."


In Britain's Financial Times, commentator Amity Shlaes says that business-people ought to understand readily why U.S. courts should enter into the election outcome issue. Shlaes writes: "That the high court (that is, U.S. Supreme Court) chose to hear a political case in the context of law linked to universal notions of fairness will strike those in business as fitting." she adds: "A businessman's solution honoring contract and due process is the best way to ensure that America's false crisis does not become a true one."


The Boston Globe, in an editorial, draws an unsettling scenario. Supposing an investigating journalist demonstrates halfway through President George W. Bush's first term that Al Gore really was the fair winner if all Florida's votes had been properly counted. The Globe's editorial concludes: "The best way to avoid such a national embarrassment is still, as it has been since November 7 (that is, election day), to count as many votes as possible."


Some Western commentary notes today that elections also occur elsewhere. Spain's El Pais says in an editorial that the outcome of Sunday's election in Romania is disappointing and frustrating. El Pais writes: "Europe [again has] proof that the transition to democracy in countries that were mistreated for so long is not necessarily predetermined. Regressions are possible and sometimes quite dangerous." It adds: "The fact that more than a decade after the fall of Ceaucescu, the candidates for the head of the Romanian state are the communist Ion Iliescu and Vadim Tudor, a communist converted to ethnic fascism, only make us feel depressed or alarmed."


German commentator Werner Adam writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the right words for the Romanian outcome are "unnerving" and "alarming." Adam says: "The unnerving thing about the preliminary results from Romania's presidential election is not so much the advantage of former president Ion Iliescu, a former communist, as he heads into the runoff two weeks from now. Alarming is the second-place showing of ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who has emerged after a lengthy period on the sidelines to seize a substantial role for his Greater Romania movement on the country's divided political stage by railing against gypsies, Jews and foreigners."


Its first-round election tally was a great leap backwards for Romania, writes Boris Kalnoky in Die Welt Kalnoky says: "Romania, one of the neediest and most backward countries in Europe, took another giant step in the wrong direction at the weekend as millions of desperate voters cast their ballots for former communists and right-wing extremists in presidential and parliamentary elections."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this review.)