Foreign students weigh in on elections

Matthew Gruchow

Though they can’t vote in the United States, many international students said they have picked their presidential choice and are closely watching the campaigns.

Repairing frayed U.S. relations with the world and streamlining visa procedures must be top priorities for the next president, said some international students who are following the election.

Some of President George W. Bush’s foreign policies and stricter visa policies have alienated many countries, causing fewer international students to study in the United States, some students said.

“A lot of us are watching this (election) very closely because international policies could affect us,” said Aditya Malhotra, who is from India and vice president of the Minnesota International Student Association. “I think (Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John) Kerry would be better (as president) because after 9-11, Bush has a bad name already.”

Bush is highly unpopular in Europe, and the United States’ reputation has suffered, said Peter Lintrup, a student from Denmark.

“I saw Bush as a disaster from day one,” Lintrup said. “The most powerful nation in the world should not be led by someone who cannot bring people together.”

Kerry would improve the United States’ relationship with the world, Lintrup said.

“Kerry has an outlook on the world that Bush doesn’t have,” Lintrup said.

Officials from the Bush and Kerry campaign offices in St. Paul could not be reached for comment.

A second Bush term could mean more jobs for international students hoping to work in the United States because he does not support outsourcing, said Manish Prahladka, who is from India and vice president of the Indian Student Association.

Kerry’s foreign policies are seen as more neutral and could create more allies for the United States, Prahladka said.

“As a student, I think Bush would be a better president, but if I look at the religious repercussions, Kerry would be a better president,” he said.

Muslim concerns

Whoever holds the presidency must reach out to a Muslim community that feels increasingly isolated by U.S. foreign policies, said Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic issues scholar at American University.

“Muslim students feel like they are victims of what they call racial profiling,” Ahmed said. “They feel like they are being singled out.”

Bush and Kerry have tried to improve U.S.-Muslim relations, but more must be done, Ahmed said. Many students and scholars feel like second-class citizens and are going elsewhere for their education, he said.

“There’s a rather negative cloud that hangs over international students,” Ahmed said. “This means that the potential allies of (the United States) go back to their countries and become potential rivals and feed into the anti-Americanism.”

Prahladka said Bush must learn from the failures of his aggressive foreign policies, if he is to be a better president.

“If he learns from his mistakes, that will be a good thing,” Prahladka said. “If he doesn’t, Kerry will be a nice change.”

The election circus

The presidential election is becoming like a circus, Lintrup said. The rivaling scandal-mongering and personal attacks were surprising, he said.

“Personal scandal in Danish politics is almost nonexistent,” Lintrup said. “You really have to do something very stupid.”

Denmark has a royal family, but members of the parliament represent a broad cross-section of the Danish population, he said.

“Politicians over here seem to be seen as elites of some sort,” Lintrup said. “We see politicians as regular Joes. We don’t put them on a pedestal.”

In Denmark, eligible voters are automatically registered to vote at 18 years old and sent a voting card at election time, Lintrup said. This makes the voting process easier and accounts for some of Denmark’s 80 percent to 90 percent voter turnout, he said.

Americans are known internationally for low voter turnout, he said.

Bush does not appear presidential on foreign television, he said.

“He doesn’t make a very good image on TV,” Lintrup said. “He really comes across as incompetent.”

In India, politics and elections are marred by corruption and confusion, Prahladka said, but U.S. politics are still more aggressive than his home country’s.

“In India, there is a lot of corruption and a lot of fighting,” Prahladka said. “There’s a lot of confusion in the Indian politics, and American politics is much more organized.”

Voter registration in India is disorganized and a hassle for many, especially in rural areas, Prahladka said. Still, he said, most Indians vote.

“I think people are more concerned,” he said. “I think people are more aware that if you put the right people in the right place, it will help them.”