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Western Press Review: Commentators Still Assessing U.S. Election

By Erica Hurtt

Prague, 13 November 2000 (RFE/RL)) -- Western press commentary continues to center on the U.S. presidential election and the likelihood that the country's future president will not be known for days. There are also comments on the United Nations' climate control conference, which starts today in The Hague, and Saturday's tragic funicular accident in the Austrian Alps.


In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Garry Kasparov -- world chess champion from 1985 to 2000 -- writes: "If the [U.S] presidency is now decided in courts, it will damage if not shatter the authority of the new president." Kasparov says he is not addressing himself to a U.S. domestic question, but rather to the issue of the president's effectiveness internationally. He asks: "If [the U.S president's] legitimacy is established through court battles and in a fog of uncertainty, how will the new president be able to speak to Chinese leaders about human-rights abuses or to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the worsening situation with regard to press freedom?" Kasparov's solution to the problem is a national unity government for the United States. He writes: "Let's hope that the Democrats and Republicans will be able to look above their narrow partisan agendas. America's leadership role in the world is at stake."


In Britain, Financial Times commentator Quentin Peel echoes these ideas. He writes that the "electoral shenanigans in Florida [will] likely be the prelude to a weak and defensive U.S. presidency, whoever emerges as the winner." Peel goes on to say that the situation would not be bad just for America. He writes: "Because of America's extraordinary pre-eminence as the world's solitary superpower, it is bad for us all. There is not much other leadership on the world stage to compensate for a weak presidency in Washington." Peel adds: "It seems we are in for a rough ride in international relations over the next four years. It's time to buckle your seatbelts."


In Spain's El Pais daily, analyst Andres Ortega questions the U.S. electoral system. Ortega says: "Maybe we should ask ourselves if this political system is adapted to an era of globalization. [We] cannot," he concludes, "wait for weeks to know the name and the face of the new president of the United States."


In the International Herald Tribune, Executive Editor David Ignatius says: "Americans began to know what it feels like in countries they sometimes mock -- places like Ivory Coast and Peru and Indonesia -- where the process of political succession is fragile." He goes on to say that Americans "have been living through the political equivalent of the Cuban missile crisis -- a process of steady escalation that has brought two campaigns eyeball to eyeball, each waiting for the other to blink."


Commentator Leo Wieland of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung takes a decidedly different view of the situation. The writer says that accusations that the U.S. is "some sort of banana republic are foolish and inappropriate." He adds: "There is no sense of any serious crisis or even any constitutional conflict. The confidence of the vast majority of U.S. citizens, who in the past 25 years have had to endure Watergate, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, has not been shaken to any serious extent."


An editorial in Spain's La Vanguard also takes a positive stance on the U.S. election system: "[The country's] imperfections and multiplicity are natural, its unity is created from plurality and not uniformity." The analyst goes on to say that the "diversity and laws in all of the different [U.S.] states does not prevent this nation from being the richest and mightiest of the world."


Another source of comment today is the UN conference on climate control. Financial Times commentator Vanessa Holder writes that the two-week conference in The Hague could "be the last chance to rescue the historic Kyoto Protocol." The protocol is aimed mainly at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Holder writes that "there is growing skepticism about the chances of the protocol coming into force. That depends on ratification by industrialized countries accounting for 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a goal that is extremely hard to achieve without the U.S." Holder adds that "most commentators do not believe that the U.S. Senate, which has consistently opposed the protocol, would be prepared to ratify it in the foreseeable future, regardless of who wins the U.S. presidency." She adds: "But creating a stable, effective and long-term solution to the problem of global warming is unlikely to be achieved by a single, all-embracing settlement."


Analyst Stefan Dietrich comments on the tragic funicular accident in the Austrian Alps over the weekend that killed some 160 people: "The desire of increasing numbers of people from all walks of life to take part in activities that were once only reserved for practitioners of extreme sports has taken a heavy toll of terrifying proportions. No one yet knows what caused Europe's worst funicular railway tragedy. What is certain, though, is that this disaster is man-made."

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