The contentious march of democracy in the United States

The results are finally in and the world is now reacting to the victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the US presidential election. Mr Biden – who has won more than 74 million votes, the most ever for a US presidential candidate –has hailed the “diverse” support he gathered during the campaign, and thanked African-American voters in particular. Mr. Trump has received more than 70 million votes.

There has been universal interest in the result of this 46th election to the US Presidency because there has been recognition that the outcome of this election might affect and transform diverse facets related to socio-economic developments, security and lapses in democratic governance throughout the world since 2016.  Consequently, the political leadership in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa has been calculating how a new President might re-modulate different dimensions of that country’s foreign policy and its approach to its friends and foes alike.

This has been evidenced in the manner in which some of the world's leaders have reacted and stressed on the areas where they stand with the US. Their approaches in felicitating Biden and Kamala Harris on their victory have multiple connotations. In the meantime, Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results, but elections officials in States across the country say there has been no evidence of significant fraud, and legal experts say Trump's efforts are unlikely to succeed.

As such when Biden enters the White House on January 20, 2021- the oldest person to assume the office at age 78- he in all likelihood will face a difficult task governing in a deeply polarized Washington.

Biden, who has spent nearly half a century in public life as a US Senator and Vice President, will inherit a nation in turmoil over Covid-19 and the related economic slowdown, as well as protests against racism and police brutality. This could complicate Biden's campaign promises to reverse key parts of Trump's legacy. These include deep Trump tax cuts that especially benefited corporations and the wealthy, hard-line immigration policies, efforts to dismantle the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law and Trump's abandonment of such international agreements as the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal.

Biden has said his first priority will be developing a plan to contain and recover from the pandemic, promising to improve access to testing and, unlike Trump, to heed the advice of leading public health officials and scientists. Fight against COVID-19 will get first priority of his government.  It may be noted that the global tally of people infected by the coronavirus has shot past 50 million. It has also led to the death of more than 237,000 Americans. The incoming leader has made the pledge in his first speech since that he plans to prioritize the pandemic from the outset. In this context he will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers to help take the Biden-Harris plan and convert it into an actual blueprint that will start on January 20, 2021. He also intends to be more proactive with WHO.

Joe Biden has also given emphasis on unifying the nation, which has become divided because of the presidential election and other various issues. In this context, Biden has noted that, it is “time to heal” the United States and vowed ‘not to divide but to unify’ the country. He has also thanked the 70 million voters who did not vote for him- but participated in the democratic process. In this regard, he was also gracious to add that “We have to stop treating our opponents as enemies” and stressed on rebuilding of the “absolute values” of America.

Analysts have however pointed out that should Republicans keep control of the US Senate, they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda. Biden- Kamala Harris agenda will consequently depend to a large extent on the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will not be resolved until runoffs in January.

Kamala Harris, who is about to become the first female Vice-President in the country’s history will also be the first black and first Asian-American to hold that post in US history. Ms Harris has however been gracious enough to remark that- “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.” She has also observed that the very soul of America was at stake and that “You chose hope and unity, decency, science and yes, truth – you chose Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. 

And the road ahead will not be easy  but America is ready, and so are Joe and I.”

Both Biden and Kamala have agreed on the implementation of anti-racist practices for Black Americans, racial equity and equitable policies across the board. She has also assured that measures will be introduced to hold the administration accountable in this respect. They have underlined that there will be dismantling of racist institutions, improvement in matters of policing and justice potential with regard to housing and socio-economic matters.

One needs now to turn towards world leaders and observe the subtle denotations that have marked the manner in which they have responded to the emergence of Biden as the victor.

We have to start with Benjamin Netanyahu - the Israeli Prime Minister who has recalled his " warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years” with Biden, and stressed on his being a great friend of Israel. He is now looking forward to working with both Biden and Kamala Harris. He has also not forgotten to thank Trump “for further strengthening the special alliance between the US and Israel, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights." Mr Biden's suggestion that he may rejoin the Iran nuclear deal will however deeply concern Israeli policymakers. His likely objections to further Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank will also mark a shift from his predecessor. The Palestinian Administration is looking forward to more equitable approach from Biden.

In similar vein, though British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been careful to praise both Biden and Kamala Harris and has reiterated that he is looking forward to working closely together with them on shared priorities, from climate change to trade and security , he realizes that the UK will soon have a very different transatlantic partner in Joe Biden. 

The UK currently trades with the US on terms set by the EU, but this will change on 1 January 2021 when the transition period ends - and the US and UK – will have to negotiate a new post-Brexit trade deal. They will also have to solve the problem regarding Ireland.

Narendra Modi - Indian Prime Minister has been effusive in his praise for Biden and Kamala Harris and also made reference to her Indian roots. However, Modi, who earlier had a continuing “bromance” with Trump, knows that both Kamala Harris and Biden have criticised the Hindu nationalist policies of Mr Modi's government, something Donald Trump did not do during his time in office.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have congratulated Biden on his victory but was rather delayed compared to other Arab nations. It may be recalled that President Trump's Middle East policies and opposition to Iran had boosted relations between Washington and Riyadh. However the two countries clashed over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Justin Trudeau - Canadian Prime Minister has congratulated both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and re-affirmed that as- close friends, partners, and allies- he is looking forward to “working together and building their relationship"  because they share his views on climate change and international affairs. This has been stressed because Trudeau and Trump did not have the smoothest relationship.

Angela Merkel – the German Chancellor while congratulating Biden has pointed out that "Our transatlantic friendship is indispensable if we are to deal with the major challenges of our times". This has been done because Donald Trump was deeply unpopular in Germany. He and Chancellor Merkel clashed repeatedly on NATO funding, global diplomacy and even the coronavirus, in sharp contrast to Ms Merkel's close relationship with his predecessor Barack Obama. Strategists have however observed that though Trump will not be there, issues like military spending will in all likelihood remain. However, in all probability, the US will likely renew its ties with Germany under Mr Biden.

Similarly, Emmanuel Macron - the French President has sent his felicitations but also remarked that he is looking forward to France and the USA working together more meaningfully particularly in the arena of climate change and diplomacy.

Jens Stoltenberg – the NATO Secretary General has congratulated Biden and Kamala Harris and welcomed them on board because he believes that Biden knows that “A strong NATO is good for both North America and Europe". It has been observed that, in all likelihood, Joe Biden will support a return to defence co-operation, although US requests for greater contributions from allies will likely continue.

Our President and Prime Minister have both congratulated Biden and Kamala Harris on their “achievement”. They have hoped that under their guidance, the USA will lead the world into a new era of global peace and international cooperation in facing the challenges created by the Pandemic and Climate Change. It has also been stressed by Sheikh Hasina that she looks forward to working with them in effectively confronting the evils of terrorism, violent extremism and forced displacements as has happened with the Rohingyas.

Sheikh Hasina has also extended an invitation to Biden and Kamala Harris to visit Bangladesh to see how this country has moved forward toward improved literacy rate, better healthcare facilities and gender parity. She also wants them to see for themselves how Bangladesh is tackling other serious challenges arising out of the presence of the more than one million Rohingya refugees. One presumes that such an initiative on the part of Bangladesh will help to persuade the USA to play a more active role in being associated in our socio-economic development as outlined through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and also in the speedy repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance