Victor Obama reassures world

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 5.11.08

Washington, Nov. 5: Americans voted their country back into reckoning as the leader of the free world when they elected Barack Obama as the 44th president of the US last night in a turnout that set a record in 48 years.

With the counting of provisional and absentee ballots still going on across America, 64 per cent of eligible voters cast their votes, braving the elements, long queues and snags at polling stations.

The last time Americans turned out in similar numbers to elect their commander-in-chief was when they voted John F. Kennedy to the presidency.

But if Kennedy’s election was “return to Camelot”, the idealisation of his White House as emblematic of King Arthur’s legendary court, the election of America’s first black President represents the redemption of this country where slavery was legal.

If the percentage is much higher than the figure given at the time going to the press, yesterday’s voting statistics could set a record in 100 years for a country that is notorious for its indifference to exercising adult franchise.

The 63 million plus popular votes polled for Obama, a nearly seven million lead over John McCain, represented a comprehensive rejection of eight years of Republican unilateralism that made the US government an object of revulsion in virtually every country in the world.

An hour after McCain conceded defeat, Obama sought to assure the world that he would turn his back on policies which have made people around the world lose faith in America and turn against it.

“To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world — our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand,” the President-elect said in an acceptance speech at midnight before a raucous audience estimated at 200,000 in Obama’s home town of Chicago.

“And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright — tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope,” Obama said.

Today, with only 76 days left for his swearing-in, Obama immediately set about assembling his presidency, but he made a point of taking his two daughters, 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha, to school in the knowledge that he cannot do that regularly any more after January 20 next year.

From tomorrow itself, top US intelligence officials will begin to give him top-secret daily briefings and share critical overnight intelligence reports as if he is already in the White House. Obama will also begin a practice of daily briefings to the media on Thursday.

Obama is expected to immediately name Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff, traditionally the first appointment by an incoming President. Emanuel was political and policy adviser to Bill Clinton when he was President.

In another move that will bring Clinton’s top aides back into the White House, Obama is also expected to name John Podesta, who was Clinton’s chief of staff, to head his transition team. Meanwhile, a group of Americans have begun an online petition drive through an open letter to the next President to draft Fareed Zakaria as the next secretary of state.

Zakaria is an Indian-born American journalist, currently editor of Newsweek International. It is an effort that is unlikely to go very far in view of his earlier support for the policies of President George W. Bush. The Democratic party establishment is said to be pressing for recruiting Senator John Kerry for the job.

Bush, meanwhile, talked to Obama on telephone and pledged “complete co-operation” in the transition and called Obama’s victory a “triumph of the American story”.

At the time of writing, Obama has secured 349 votes in the electoral college of 538 persons in results that are still incomplete. McCain got 163.

Results from Missouri and North Carolina are still awaited because the race in the two states is very close and counting of provisional and absentee votes is in progress.

Virginia voted for Obama and if North Carolina follows suit, two states which had very dark histories during the slave era would have especially redeemed their dishonourable past.

Obama’s victory sparked instant, late night celebrations all across the US, which continued today. A few thousand people marched to the White House and claimed that the American people had retaken the presidential home. CNN quoted Secret Service officers as saying that they had never seen anything like it before.