Switzerland anxiously watches tight US election

While the votes are still being tallied, the claims of a stolen election and legal challenges to the vote are already raising questions about whether the shining example of democracy in the US will endure in the end Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

The landslide the Democrats expected did not happen, leaving US voters and the rest of the world anxiously waiting for all the votes to be counted.

This content was published on November 7, 2020 - 14:12

"The fight for the US presidency has developed into a veritable electoral thriller," wrote Swiss public television, SRF, on Wednesday afternoon after watching the votes tally up across the United States.

Four days after Election Day and it is down to four states – Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona - to decide who will secure the coveted 270 electoral college votes needed to make it to the White House.

A tight race and an unusually high number of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic have meant long hours for vote counters in many counties, and a longer than usual wait before a clear outcome. Biden is ahead in both Pennsylvania and Georgia thanks to the high number of mail-in ballots cast in urban areas like Philadelphia and Atlanta.

As the mail-in votes prove more favorable to Biden, President Trump has stepped up attacks on the voting process, claiming major fraud and that the Biden camp is trying to steal the election. His campaign has launched a series of lawsuits across battleground states and has vowed that it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

This has prompted reactions in Switzerland from confusion and surprise to fatigue and ridicule. The Swiss have their eyes glued to the electoral map not only because of the impact it could have on the world but also because the pure spectacle of it all is keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.

Making sense of it all

In the German-language paper Tages-Anzeiger on Friday evening Arthur Rutishauser wroteExternal link that the show is over.  

“When will America finally come to its senses, when will this nightmare finally be over? This is probably what most of the people in Switzerland who are now looking at America are wondering.”

Trump’s reactions to the vote appeared as validation that someone who “produces scandals on a daily basis” and “pours fuel on the fire, can no longer be the most powerful man in the world,” wrote Rutishauser.

He asks how is it that “many Americans are not ashamed of Trump, but rather still love him today, while Biden hardly inspires anyone. How can that be?”

The answer, he writes, is the economy.

Malika Nedir echoed this in an editorialExternal link in the French-language paper La Tribune de Genève earlier in the week, where she wrote that even if Trump doesn’t win, he still showed that half the country believes that they are better off after four years with him as president.

“They are convinced that the energy and optimism of the president are more useful to the country than the return to decency and appeasement promised by Joe Biden.”

Stress test for democracy

In an opinion pieceExternal link on Wednesday, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung called the President's claims that the election has been stolen "irresponsible and dangerous" and that they undermine trust in the legitimacy of a process that is going exactly as predicted.

On Thursday, Christof Münger in the Tages-Anzeiger argued that Donald Trump’s actions are a “fatal signal to democracies around the world”. He said his actions had the “audacity of an autocrat”.

US democracy has been a shining example around the world, Münger wroteExternal link. “Should Trump win in the end, a politician who mocks democracy will continue to rule with the democratic seal of approval - the great irony of this election.”

A group of around 20 Americans living in Switzerland gathered in Zurich on Saturday for a rally with the Democrats Abroad association. According to a member of the group, they wanted to show support for the democratic process and that all votes be counted.

Whether US democracy will endure, and there will be a peaceful end to the election are questions preoccupying Swiss media.

Swiss public television, SRF, US correspondent Isabelle Jacobi wroteExternal link that “In the end, it is hoped, there will be a winner and a loser, and US democracy will pass the 2020 stress test.”

In an interviewExternal link with the German language paper Tages-Anzeiger, Josef Dittli, the only Swiss election observer of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the US election, said that he was concerned that President Trump was igniting a dangerous spark with some of his statements and that this could lead to riots.

The fact that the race was so tight means that whoever wins the election has the difficult task of bringing together a polarised country.

Jacobi added that “there won’t be a happy ending to this story because half of US voters will feel betrayed whoever wins. In the oldest democracy in the world, the democratic majority principle is apparently no longer sacrosanct.”

At stake for Switzerland

It's unclear what a Biden presidency could mean for Switzerland. The country can’t complain about a lack of attention over the last four years. President Trump visited the country twice for the World Economic Forum in Davos and Ueli Maurer, who held the rotating Swiss presidency last year, was welcomed at the White House, the first time for a Swiss president.

Although a free trade agreement wasn’t signed and Switzerland suffered from tariffs placed on steel and aluminum, Swiss exports rose during Trump’s term. The country also solidified its special role as representing US interests in Iran.

Trump has not been a fan of multilateralism – something that Switzerland holds in high regard. If Biden becomes the next president, the French-language paperExternal link Le Temps writes that "in 2021, Washington will look again to the European continent with a focus on restoring confidence”.

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