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An international election, not just an American one

COMMENTARY | November 06, 2008

The overseas press: In Paris, the American nightspots were filled--with French people. In Indonesia, there were 15-minute silences in schools all week so children could pray for Obama. In Great Britain, The Guardian writes that Joe the plumber stood for what used to be a "silent majority" of white working-class Americans but is now a (not so) silent minority. And José the plumber, the newspaper notes, voted for Obama.

By Lauren Drablier

PARISOn election night I expected to see Americans here gathering to witness the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

I was more than just a little astonished by what I saw. There weren’t masses of Americans flooding the American hot-spots. Why not? Because those places were filled with French people. French who were glued to TV screens, who cheered or booed with every announcement.  French who were enthralled. Their reaction was amazing, and it was reflected in the headlines the following day across the globe: the excitement, the interest, the pride and the enthusiasm ignited by Obama.

We all saw the images from around the world – his family in Kenya, his friends in Indonesia – people everywhere celebrating. Various races, nationalities, colors, faiths and time zones, celebrating and cheering.

There was no shortage of articles. Most expressed enthusiasm and hope. Many commentators wrote in expectation that Obama could induce worthwhile change, noting the high stakes upon him and his administration in the wake of the Bush presidency. At the same time they emphasized the need to remain cautiously optimistic.

In Kenya, Obama’s father’s country of origin, the Daily Nation wrote that Africans have already received something amazing with Obama’s victory in Why Africa should not ask anything more of Obama:

“Why is Obama’s victory important apart from the “ethnic” affiliation we might feel that, because his father was a Kenyan, he is one of us? Will Obama’s victory put ugali on our tables? many people have asked. To which the definitive answer has to be “No”.

“A Ugandan friend finally nailed it down for me. ‘Obama doesn’t owe Africa anything, and even if he had ugali to give, he shouldn’t,’ he said.

“’He has already given us the best thing he can — inspiration. It is the only thing that can endure for Africa from his historic victory’. So, he (Boris Johnson) argued, Africa should not ask anything more of Obama. He has already given her continent more than there is to give.

“Now the easy prop we used to have, of blaming our individual and collective failures on white racism, has been chiselled away.

“Also the disappointments that waited the Africans who expected special treatment from a black president, when they find out that, at the end of the day, he is, and will always remain, an American leader whose primary business is to take care of his people first.

In Barack Obama's campaign of change brings weight of great expectations, the Herald Sun emphasizes the burden that lies ahead:

“Now, he must live up to the huge expectations he has created and provide a tangible definition for his promise of change.

“President-elect Obama must now right the course and restore the confidence of Americans. But with big mandates, come difficulties.

“The new president and his party will now have a monopoly on America's problems.

“His was not so much a political campaign but a social movement for change.”

Australia’s The Age focuses on Australian political leaders responses to Obama’s victory in King's dream realised in the election of Obama, says PM

“Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said voters in the United States have turned Martin Luther King's dream into reality and demonstrated the greatness of their democracy.

“Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said Barack Obama's victory was a defining moment in history that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

“Mr Turnbull said he was looking forward to working closely and productively with the new US administration.

“Mr Rudd said Senator Obama inspired America and brought a message of hope for a world, which in many respects feared for its future.”

In Indonesia where Obama lived for four years with his mother and step-father, crowds rejoiced.  In Jakarta celebrates the Menteng Kid’s victory the Jakarta Post highlights the excitement and pride felt in Indonesia:

“It was a special day for students of Obama’s former school SDN Menteng 01, Central Jakarta, who gathered at the school’s hall to watch the final results pour in. Several pictures of Obama during his school years there were prominently displayed.

“A 15-minute silence has been held here every day since Monday to allow the students to pray for Obama’s victory.

“Obama’s historic election as the next U.S. president was a dream come true for his supporters in Indonesia.

“’I think it’s good motivation for the children to study hard and set their dreams high,’ Kuwadiyanto said.

“In the rest of the capital, Jakartans cheered the election of Anak Menteng (the Menteng Kid) as America’s first black president.

“’It’s no longer a U.S. election,’ one guest said. ‘It looks like an international election. People all over the world are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the election.’

“‘It’s great to be part of history. No one thought Obama would win the U.S. presidency,’ Enda said.”

The UK’s The Guardian believes it is going to be a steep hill for Obama but that he represents many things that are changing in the world in I saw Americans dance with history, chanting 'Yes we can!' But can they?:

“To say that he is the first black president in American history is more to write the last lines of the last chapter than the start of a new one. That chapter of pain is both remarkably ancient and shockingly recent.

“But Obama is much more than just black American. Like a growing number of citizens of our mixed-up world he is, as the columnist Michael Kinsley nicely puts it, "a one-man ethnic stew". This qualifies him to represent all those Americans, of every hue and mix, that I saw in the long queues of people waiting to vote in downtown Washington, and in that crowd before the White House. "Where are you from?" I asked a man who I guessed might be of North African origin. He stopped dancing for a moment, looked at me and said: "From my mother." A wonderful answer, also a rebuke, and minted for the age of Obama.

“To reduce this story to the black-white dichotomy is as useful as a black and white photograph of a colourful scene. John McCain may have singled out Joe the plumber to represent an old-fashioned, putative "silent majority" of white working-class Americans, but actually they now constitute a (not so) silent minority. And José the plumber voted for Obama. In fact, Obama's vote benefited from almost every aspect of America's growing demographic diversity

“Many Americans are still irrationally suspicious of Barack Hussein Obama, but an entirely rational observer could conclude that his instincts are more socially and cultural liberal than those of a cultural-conservative Republican, and less economically liberal than those of a libertarian Republican.

“Where the Bush administration used military "shock and awe" to hunt down weapons of mass destruction that turned out not even to be there, Obama is himself a weapon of mass attraction.

“And he can appeal to what is perhaps America's greatest power resource: the can-do spirit of innovation, enterprise and hard work, mixed with civic patriotism, which this country invites everyone to embrace, wherever they come from.

“If you ask me whether all this will be enough to surmount all the obstacles America now faces, I must in all honesty reply that, on a sober assessment, I doubt it. But we can again hope, and hope we must.”

In Italian politicians hail Obama win, Italy’s Ansa gives an overview of reactions by Italian politicians:

“Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi congratulated Obama on his success 'after a difficult election campaign against a top-level rival'.

“Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called Obama's victory ‘a great day'. 'For us Italians who feel intimately linked on the historical and political, cultural and human level with the American people.'

“Napolitano said he and the Italian people were 'profoundly impressed by the unparalleled proof of strength and vitality which American democracy has given us, thanks to an unprecedented participation in the electoral campaign and the vote and thanks to the very widespread support for a programme rich in ideals and commitments for renewal’.

“The leader of Italy's largest opposition party, Walter Veltroni of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), sent a message to Obama saying his election victory could 'change the world'. He said Obama represented 'new leadership and new ideas capable of winning the hearts and minds of Americans and affirming a vision of the world composed of progress, solidarity, equality and sustainable development'.

“The only dissenting voice in the choir appeared to be the Senate leader of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL), who caused a storm by suggesting that al Qaeda might be happier with Barack Obama in the White House.

“Neapolitans meanwhile had an extra reason to celebrate Obama's win as the Italy for Obama committee handed out special free pizza.”

EurActiv.com, in Europe warned against 'Obamania' presents the policy changes that will occur under Obama and how the EU will factor in, while emphasizing the challenges ahead and the need to find solutions to common goals:

“Policymakers and analysts have begun to warn Europeans against over-expectation regarding Barack Obama's ability to deliver on his stated agenda for change, at least in the short term.

“Leonard said European leaders should spend the next two months developing a package of solutions on all of these issues so that they can approach President Obama with the outlines of a common plan of action, instead of a shopping list of demands.

“The ECFR's Andrew Wilson added that agreeing a common position towards Russia may be one of the most difficult transatlantic issues that the new US President would have to deal with.

“There is a need for "expectation management" in Europe with respect to the climate change agenda of the next US presidency and the chances of a global deal, said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, senior director for policy programmes at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC.

“And a transatlantic consensus on how to tackle the financial crisis may not be easy to reach either, according to policymakers in Brussels.

“Graham Watson, the leader of the liberal group in Parliament (ALDE), warned that "miracles" there "cannot be realistically expected over the short term".

“German Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff also warned against "expecting too much" of President Obama.

“‘President Obama is also likely to demand more from Europeans in the future, particularly in the fight against terror,’ he said.”

In Tanzanians rejoice with Obama the Daily News of Tanzania expressed their excitement for Obama as he paves the way for the rest of the world:

“The Parliament of Tanzania has issued a congratulatory declaration to the President-elect of the United States of America, Mr Barack Obama, after emerging triumphant in yesterday’s presidential election.

“Mr Khalifa Suleiman Khalifa (Gando-CUF) said the opposition camp was exited by Obama’s election, sounding optimistic that the new leader could unite Americans as a nation, irrespective of their colour or race.

“Mr John Cheyo (UDP), said Tanzanians should learn from America’s style of free and fair elections. ‘We should insist on national unity above our political parties, religions and ethnicity,’ he emphasized.”

“In Dar es Salaam, the city and its citizens shared in the American dream come true through Barack Obama, an Illinois senator who made history as first African-American to book a place of leadership of the world’s strongest democracy.

“‘The Americans have taught us a big lesson in democracy … look at the way they conducted this election … and finally announcing the winner … the results were agreeable to all parties … this is something Tanzania must learn to do - concede defeat honourably,’ Kagombola said.

“‘There is widespread belief that Americans always give aid and technical assistance to small countries like Tanzania with lots of strings attached … it’s time for Obama to prove the world wrong … God bless him,’ said the woman who only identified herself as Mrs Sokoni.”

In The rise of Barack Obama, Canada’s Ottawa Citizen compares the enthusiasm for Obama to the lack of enthusiasm in Canadian politics:

“Canadians found few reasons to get excited about politics in October, few reasons to even bother voting. It took Barack Obama to remind us that the public life of a nation can be thrilling.

“The triumph of Mr. Obama won't spell the end of racism in the United States, but it is the beginning of a new, more open, democracy there. Many people who have long felt disenfranchised, in a system that seemed not to represent all citizens, were eager to vote this time. Before dawn, there were long line-ups at the polls. Mr. Obama's skin colour isn't the only factor in that, of course. People were voting because they had a reason to vote.

“In recent Canadian elections, voters have grumbled that they've been forced to choose the least of five evils. Many have chosen not to vote as a way to say "none of the above." It's a self-defeating and irresponsible strategy, but it's also understandable.

“In Barack Obama, Americans had the opportunity to vote for someone, not just against someone.

“He'll also need to manage expectations so that the voters' hopes aren't dashed by reality. But for now, it's refreshing to see a politician raise hopes in the first place.

Arab News notes the inspiration felt around the world and the importance that Obama’s future role as president has in President Barack Hussein Obama:

“Barack Hussein Obama, son of an African, educated as a small child in Indonesia where he was registered in school as a Muslim, and brought up later in Hawaii by his 100 percent white, mainstream grandparents, could be today elected as president of the United States? — the ‘dream’ come true when, as Dr. King prophesied, ‘every Negro in this country.... will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.’

“The effect on the rest of the world will be stunning. No European nation, including Russia that has a part black national poet, Pushkin, is within sight of electing a man of color as head of government, yet Europeans will be profoundly thankful that the America they began to hate can now again be admired, and even loved. Africa, needless to say, will be electrified. Asia will nod sagely, recalling that India, in modern times, has had a woman prime minister, three Muslim presidents and now a Sikh prime minister.

“The Middle East will rejoice too. Muslims have always had less hang-ups about racial equality than western Christians. Now they will expect to see a man who has climbed out of the abysmal abyss of poverty and separated parents in a country once riven with prejudice will profoundly and instinctively understand the plight of the Palestinians and will really this time put America’s strength in motion to enable a two-state solution.

“All the continents, including South America, where blacks and Indians remain largely powerless, will sense the importance of this victory.

“Obama in this campaign has revealed his character — he has at a relatively young age found and mastered his own sense of gravity. And America has chosen to elect him president. Thank you, Martin Luther King: ‘Peace at last. Thank God Almighty. Peace at last.’”

The United Arab Emirates The National highlights the enthusiasm that has engulfed the world but also discusses the challenges ahead with relation to Gulf state in So much hope, but so many problems now facing Obama;

“Rarely has a candidate elicited such hope and expectation for drastic change at home and abroad and set such ambitious goals for himself and his presidency, and yet rarely has an incoming president inherited such a legacy of foreign and domestic policy challenges, or faced such a complicated international situation. Obama’s task now is to manage this wide gulf between promise and reality.

“The mere fact of his victory and some early and symbolic decisions – like reversing course on Guantanamo and torture policy, incontestable stains on America’s reputation – will woo back some of those disenchanted by America, but it is probable that it won’t be enough.

“People everywhere are busy figuring out Obama’s priorities but it is safe to assume that the Middle East will figure somewhere at the top, only a notch below the economy. The arc of crisis that extends from Pakistan to Egypt requires significant attention and the kind of creative diplomacy that has been sorely absent in recent years.

“Obama’s ability to go ahead with those ambitious policy changes will depend on his authority at home. One way to secure his position is to surround himself with foreign policy heavyweights who can counter accusations of a naive understanding of international affairs.

“Alarmingly maybe, but it is on the Gulf that Obama seems least authoritative. Historically, the Democrats have been less attuned to the region than the Republicans, who have courted and built close relationships with Saudi, Emirati and other leaders. And from conversations with Obama advisers, one gets the sense that they have sketched an Iran policy with a Gulf component rather than a Gulf policy with an Iran component.

“It will be important for Gulf leaders to quickly familiarise themselves with the new administration. If they play their hand well, their pivotal role in tackling the financial crisis and in stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan will strengthen their positions and could win them Washington’s favours.

“One can expect Obama to make genuine overtures toward the Arab and Muslim worlds in coming months – but then delay major initiatives until the regional picture clarifies. Yet, time is not on his side and the absence of US leadership could well worsen the situation. The world is revelling in Obama’s victory, but as the world’s most powerful man will soon learn, that reservoir of goodwill is not bottomless.”

In Lame ducks are planting mines Russia’s RIA Novosti discusses how the Bush administration has built many roadblocks to establishing international cooperation between Russia and the U.S., now Obama is left to pick up the pieces:

“The new Obama administration will have its work cut out for it. Many mines have been planted on the path to cooperation with Russia that must be defused, assuming, of course, that Obama shows interest in defusing them. The departing team, aside from a declared wish to establish a strategic partnership with Moscow, has done practically nothing to promote cooperation; perhaps it only created additional complications for the relief crew.”

The Jamaica Observer focuses on the issue of race and the example and inspiration the election of Obama has for the Caribbean in Obama - a triumph over racial bigotry;

“America has therefore undergone a cultural and political metamorphosis - undoubtedly and ironically partly influenced by eight years of the ideology and governance politics of George W Bush.

“The stirring pleas of Obama for "change" and his faith to believe that "change we can", have won. The victory over the sins of racial bigotry and a cock-eyed view of America's "leadership" role in the world under George Bush have been dealt a severe blow.

“Americans' triumph over deep-seated racial patterns in voting have scored well in America's quest, now under Obama's presidency, to restore a quality of moral leadership in global governance that had been seriously impaired by the outgoing Bush administration.

“Therefore, let all Caribbean citizens, not just those of the diaspora in the USA who would have voted for him, join President-elect Obama in scoring one for a resounding triumph over racial bigotry at Tuesday's election.

“That bigotry is the disease which has so painfully inhabited, for far too long, the culture and politics of what still stands as a towering democracy of the world. Consequently, lesson one of Obama's victory for all citizens of our multi-ethnic, multicultural Caribbean, a region often viewed as a microcosm of the world, is the strength and value of racial tolerance in nation building.

“Vote for the best, not for race or religion.

“It is a good time for the people of this region, including decision-makers, to cease shouting, expediently, national mottos that remind us of our common heritage as citizens of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural societies of the Caribbean Community, while allowing racial and cultural prejudices to feed emotions and exercise them, accordingly, at national elections, or in the conduct of the nation's business.

“For now, we await the quality of American men and women, of all races and creeds, who will be chosen for the first ever administration of the first African-American president of superpower USA.”

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