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As America Waits Out An Uncertain Election, Much Of The World Sees Chaos

A supporter of President Trump poses with a cardboard-cutout likeness Wednesday in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
John MacDougall
AFP via Getty Images
A supporter of President Trump poses with a cardboard-cutout likeness Wednesday in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET

While the United States is locked in limbo for the outcome of an election that President Trump has already labeled fraudulent and has threatened to challenge in court, the rest of the world is looking on with a mixture of uncertainty, concern and outright alarm.

World leaders have for the most part held back on weighing in on an election that is still America's to decide. However, media around the world, hoping to place a historic moment into context for readers, listeners and viewers, have been less reticent.

Here's a sample of what is being said and written around the world:

Germany's defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, called the uncertainty surrounding the outcome "a very explosive situation."

"This is a situation that can lead to a constitutional crisis in the U.S., as experts are rightly saying," she told German broadcaster ZDF. "And it is something that must cause us great concern."

The international edition of the Der Spiegel weekly ran acommentary from its chief correspondent in Washington saying that Trump's false declaration of victory and potential challenge of the results "is threatening to turn the vote into a farce."

German parliamentarian Norbert Röttgen, seen as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, told NPR that Trump's premature victory speech showed "a total lack of respect for the law."

"[The] counting process is ongoing. Nobody has a basis or a right to declare victory," he said.

Meanwhile, in neighboring France, the Le Monde daily led its website with a quote from French journalist Sylvie Kauffmann, who blamed the election impasse on "flaws in the electoral system." She wrote that leaving the process to the states "creates a lot of disparities and complicates the counting of votes at the national level."

In the United Kingdom, an analysis in Wednesday's Times of London was brutally succinct: "It is hard to look at our closest ally this morning without concluding that it is a nation in trouble — with all that means for countries that, since the Second World War, have looked to the United States for leadership and protection. As Britain has."

Christabel Portuphy, who is from Ghana and works in London, was concerned about the president's false claims of victory and fraud.

"It's going to get his supporters also believing that he's won," Portuphy said. "It creates chaos in the country. I think he should just wait, be patient and trust the system."

The director of Italy's Institute of International Affairs in Rome, Nathalie Tocci, said if a contested U.S. election ends up in the courts and leads to violence, it would further damage America's standing and undermine democracy in Europe.

"In an international system in which a confrontation is crystallizing between the U.S. and authoritarian powers, beginning with China (with Russia tagging along), a weakening of democracy in America, perhaps even more so than the policies of President Trump, would represent a blow to democratic Europe."

In Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has enjoyed close ties with the U.S. president and where Trump gets high marks for the controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's incoming ambassador to the U.S., Gilad Erdan, stressed that his country will work with whomever occupies the White House.

He told Israel's Army Radio: "Our partnership with whomever is elected is not a personal partnership — it is a strategic partnership. It is deep. ... Any administration that will be chosen today or in the coming days, I think we, Israel, will continue to be its strategic ally."

Asked, if he owned a store in the U.S., whether he would board it up as a precaution against possible post-election violence, he said he probably would.

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth printed its cover page with two headlines. Right-side up it says "Mr. President," with Trump's photo. Flip the cover page upside down, and it says "Mr. President," with Joe Biden's photo.

An editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail called the U.S. election a "referendum on America's soul" and said the stalled results left open "two possibilities, neither of them ideal."

"The first is that Mr. Trump is on the verge of re-election. The second is that the decision as to who has won could come down to mail-in ballots ... which are likely to lean to the Democratic Party, and which in these states are not legally counted until after election day," the newspaper's editorial board wrote. "That gives Mr. Trump every incentive to try to delegitimize the entirely legitimate counting of those ballots. He began a campaign to do so months ago."

In Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, predicted that despite Biden's likely win of the popular vote, Trump "will still emerge the winner because he's done more for Americans than any president before him."

"People are tired of anarchy throughout the country," he said, comparing the situation in America to the "pogroms, looting and violence" in Russia's past.

The chairman of Russia's upper-house Federation Council's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, alluded to U.S. intelligence claims, which both Trump and the Kremlin have denied, of Russian interference in American presidential elections. He said such claims were "never convincingly proven but enough to permanently attack [Trump]," adding that Moscow "benefits from any certainty in which the losers won't need to resort to [claims of] foreign interference."

In China, which has been a Trump administration target over both trade and Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, officials are taking a wait-and-see approach, and news outlets are being told not to write about the impasse. Instead, top trending items on social media on Wednesday included "U.S. backs out of Paris agreement." China's Foreign Ministry said: "The U.S. election is a domestic affair; China has no position."

Even so, the official Global Times suggested late Tuesday that the bitterly fought election pointed to a broader U.S. decline: "The US has to some extent degraded," it said. "In recent years, the US has ignored rules of the international community. Everything has been oriented toward maximizing American interests. Egoism has flooded both internally and externally."

Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, expressed reserve and caution, remaining tight-lipped when asked at a news conference when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga might send a congratulatory message to the winner: "The Japanese government will continue to monitor the outcome and its potential implications with keen interest," he said.

South Korea, meanwhile, is also keeping a close watch on the election, the outcome of which could affect the all-important military alliance with the U.S. as well as Washington's ties with North Korea. The Foreign Ministry has organized a task force to plan Seoul's response to the outcome of the U.S. vote.

"There is high possibility that the result of [the] U.S. presidential election will be the beginning of a new political situation" on the Korean Peninsula, Minister of Unification Lee In-young said Wednesday.

In a "special contribution" to the South's Yonhap News Agency, Biden pledged to strengthen the U.S.-South Korean alliance "rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops," a reference to Trump's attempts to compel Seoul to pay more for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea.

In the world's largest democracy, India, where Trump has described Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a "friend," one commentator expressed astonishment that Americans are so impatient for results. In India, election outcomes frequently take days or weeks to determine because of the huge number of ballots and the country's vast geography.

"Democracy, unlike candy, does not come out of a vending machine delivering instant gratification," Indian radio commentator Sandip Roy said. "And that's a good thing."

An analysis in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald said the U.S. president's push to stop the vote count "has sought to undermine the democracy he leads and disenfranchise millions of his fellow citizens."

NPR international correspondents Daniel Estrin, Emily Feng, Lauren Frayer, Anthony Kuhn, Lucian Kim, Frank Langfitt and Rob Schmitz contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.