U.S. Election: What the Neighbors are Saying

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Most Russians giggled last week when the Communist party tabled a resolution in the Duma demanding that independent observers monitor the U.S. election. But as of Wednesday, some were wondering whether the Reds had a point. International reaction to the U.S. presidential quagmire has ranged from incredulity to amusement, by way of a large dose of knowing recognition.

As Florida Goes, So Goes Egypt

In Cairo, where the Mubarak government is once again engaged in its familiar ritual of stealing elections, the Florida contretemps was greeted as a familiar symptom. "People here welcomed the announcement that Bush had won because Joe Lieberman being vice president is not something people here would welcome at all," says TIME Cairo reporter Armany Radwan. "So when it was announced that Bush had in fact not won, many people were joking that they're messing with the election in America as well, because they're very busy doing that here right now. One supporter of an opposition candidate who was being prevented by police from going to the polls joked that all he wanted to do was go and vote for Bush."

Milosevic Must Be Smiling

Over in Belgrade, where people had stormed the city two months ago in order to ensure that their popular vote was respected, Serbs were wide-eyed. "Everybody was totally astonished," says TIME reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "First it was announced that Bush was elected, then it was announced that he hadn't won. The joke here was that the mayor Cacak should be called out with his bulldozer [a reference to the key moment in the anti-Milosevic protests when police vehicles were bulldozed aside]."

Indian Election Specialists Available

The Florida drama was greeted with a familiar shrug over in India, the world's largest democracy. "Even Laloo Yadav, the local politician whose name is a byword for corruption and electoral chaos, couldn't have dreamed up the spectacle we're seeing in Florida now," says TIME New Delhi contributor Maseeh Rahman. "It's given people here a sense that at a grassroots level, elections in the U.S. aren't that different from elections in India, particularly when it's a close fight — the victor is not always the guy who would have won in a fair contest." The suggestion that a new poll be held in Palm Beach County was also very familiar in India. "That happens all the time here," says Rahman. "If the Florida electoral commission needs some expertise, India could fly over some officials with plenty of experience in these matters."

Surprise in Colombia

In Colombia, former El Tiempo editor Alfonso Martinez told TIME that the crisis in the U.S. would help some local politicians. "Colombians are surprised that there can be no result two days after an election in the U.S. because usually everything is very quick there," says Martinez. "The Palm Beach issue is raising considerable interest since it's being used locally to show that even in the U.S. there are irregularities in elections."

They're 'Havana' Ball in Cuba

Fidel Castro, naturally, lost no time in going nyah-nyah, and blaming the situation on the "Cuban-American terrorist mafia." The official daily Granma charged that Cuban exiles had committed widespread electoral fraud, and demanded new elections in Florida to prove that it was a democracy rather than "a banana republic." (The Cuban leader may, of course, want to be a bit more prudent about demanding free and fair elections lest his people start getting ideas.)

Ooh-la-la! French Give Finger to Media

Elsewhere, what has caused greatest alarm is the role of the U.S. media. Kenya's Daily Nation editorialized that "the alacrity with which the U.S. media announce results before rechecking is likely to cause confusion, rob the victor of his spoil, and vitiate what remains democratic in the system." Over in Paris, there was concern that the U.S. media had taken everyone for suckers. "When CNN and the other networks made these errors on calling Florida, it set off a worldwide media chain reaction," says TIME Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley. "There is concern here that everyone from the average Joe watching French TV to the French president — and even Gore and Bush themselves — were taken in by the U.S. media's false alarm."

Admiration for American Calm

But beyond the incredulity and the joking, the most widespread response worldwide was praise for the way Americans and their politicians have handled the meltdown. Two days after the election the results aren't known, but the streets are calm, the nation is going about its business and nobody doubts the stability of the system or its ability to resolve the mess. In countless other countries, there'd be blood on the streets by now.