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Asia applauds U.S. race as lesson in democracy

Asia applauds U.S. race as lesson in democracy

In a continent where democracy is in its infancy in many countries and yet to be conceived in others, Asian media generally hailed on Thursday the U.S. election race as a model of a people's choice.

But Asia warned that whichever candidate emerges as winner of the closest U.S. presidential election in four decades he faces the daunting task not only of governing a finely divided nation but also of winning the trust of the half of the electorate who did not vote for him.

"The election showed the weight that each ballot carries in a democracy," commented Japan's influential financial daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun as Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush awaited a recount from Florida.

"The next president of the United States may be decided by a few hundred votes in Florida, and no matter how minute the difference may be, in an election it is absolute."

That plaudit for the democratic process from one of Asia's most established democracies was echoed elsewhere.

NEW DEMOCRACIES CAN LEARN

Indonesia, which just last year chose its first democratically elected head of state, drew hope from the U.S. election even as its own president, Abdurrahman Wahid, counters mounting attempts by the political elite to push him aside.

"As a fledgling democracy, Indonesia could learn much from Wednesday's U.S. election and from the political maturity the American people displayed in adhering to their democratic principles," the Jakarta Post wrote in an editorial.

"No matter how much the candidates criticise each other and no matter how enthusiastic their supporters are, once the winner of the contest has been declared...the supporters will stand firmly behind the victor as a united nation and support their elected president," it said.

In the Philippines, where popularly elected President Jospeh Estrada faces impeachment amid allegations of taking bribes from gambling syndicates, at least one newspaper recognised the shortcomings of their own democratic process.

The Malaya newspaper remarked that if such a photo finish had arisen in the Philippines, prevailing vote counting practices would have favoured the candidate who controlled the area under dispute.

Both Gore and Bush have won about 48 percent of the vote, and the man who takes Florida will win.

China, whose Communist Party has ruled for more than five decades and brooks no opposition, gave the elections front-page coverage, but refrained from comment on an exercise in democracy as yet unknown by its 1.3 billion people.

South Korea was another fledgling Asian democracy that found much to praise.

"From the U.S. presidential election happenings overnight, we witnessed the accuracy and prudence of the U.S. election process and the rationality of the U.S. election system," said an editorial in the Chosun Ilbo.

"We were impressed by the process of correcting errors which came up in the election regardless of the results. The process to correct errors seems to indicate the level of development of a country's political and social culture."

The Joong-ang Ilbo, too, was impressed.

"This mature citizenship is the core of the mature U.S. democracy," it said.

TRANQUILLISERS FOR THE ROLLERCOASTER

The rollercoaster ride as the election results poured out via U.S. media on Wednesday provided an exciting day for Asia, where people from Canberra to Calcutta could follow the drama throughout their day.

"Give me a valium, give me a drink, give me a break," wrote The Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, in a piece describing the U.S. election as reminiscent of a Hollywood script.

Many drew lessons from the neck-and-neck race and cited the problems of winning the job as the world's most powerful leader when literally half the electorate picked the other contender.

PRESIDENT WILL NEED CONSENSUS

A Singapore Straits Times editorial advised the president and Congress to do three things: squat on extremists in their party; plump for continuity, and not radical experimentation, in both domestic and foreign policy; and concentrate on forging a bipartisan consensus on controversial issues such as tax cuts and relations with China.

"With the next Congress almost neatly divided between the two major parties, the next President, if he wishes to govern, will first have to set aside his party's agenda and try to establish a consensus with the losing party," it said.

"As murky as they are, the results may indicate that that is precisely what the electorate wants," it said.

Not shy with suggestions was Hong Kong, which struggles with limited suffrage and has a chief executive whose job is seen by many as in the gift of Beijing's communist strongmen.

"No matter who finally wins, the narrow margin almost guarantees that the next president will not solve the main domestic issues he inherits," said a leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post.

"With no clear mandate for anything, and a sharply divided Congress, about the best to be expected are interim solutions for long-term problems." The Hong Kong Mail was more outspoken.

"Neither man will inspire great confidence in the White House," it said. "Even before the election night fiasco, both men were inadequate candidates. Now, whichever candidate wins, he lacks the popular mandate to carry the people with him."

Australia's media regarded either possible outcome as irrevelant, saying the differences between Bush and Gore were merely a matter of emphasis.

"From Australia's point of view, neither of the possible presidential outcomes would have caused great concern," said the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that Bush would probably be more comfortable with Australia's conservative government.

The Japan Times summed up the uncomfortable position of the winner.

"Neither mainstream presidential candidate can claim to speak for all Americans, nor can either party. The top priority of the next president will be to bridge that yawning divide."


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