International reaction to U.S. election
Barack Obama’s historic victory was greeted around the world with reactions ranging from hope to hostility.
In Kenya, Obama’s ancestral home, folks danced in the street, while in Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev took the opportunity to up the military ante. In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi feigned indifference while offering the new American leader “advice.”
But in the U.S., the mood was one of anticipation.
Washington was abuzz with reports that the president-elect offered the chief of staff job to Rahm Emanuel, brother of Endeavor Agency partner Ari Emanuel.
Attention also was turning to the inauguration, as hotels started to book up in anticipation of a crush of revelers to greet the first Democratic turnover of the White House since 1992.
“Parties are being planned as we speak,” said one longtime D.C. insider. “Everybody’s waiting for the Chicago crowd to come. It will be a total realignment of social Washington.”
After the last guests left from an election night party at her Beverly Park home, Irena Medavoy, who, with husband Mike, hosted Obama at their home for a fund-raiser, said that she and Arianna Huffington, among others, were planning a pre-inaugural party.
Two races of interest to the entertainment industry remained in dispute.
In California, Los Angeles County stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after it appeared voters had approved the Proposition 8 ballot initiative to constitutionally ban gay nuptials in the state. While news outlets declared that the initiative had passed, supporters of gay marriage refused to concede pending the results of remaining absentee ballots.
“There is always the thought of ‘live to fight another day,’ but if we end up losing this, the disappointment is that a majority of California voters didn’t get that this is a human rights and civil rights issue,” said producer Bruce Cohen, who had raised money and campaigned against the initiative.
The city attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles and counsel of Santa Clara County filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to invalidate the proposition, and others were planning other legal challenges.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Al Franken trailed incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by just 475 votes, triggering an automatic recount.
“This has been a long campaign, but it is going to be a little longer before we have a winner,” Franken said.
Outside the U.S., Obama dominated the news. No country greeted his win with such unbridled joy as Kenya, where Obama’s father was born. President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a national holiday to celebrate. “Sen. Obama is our new president. God has answered our prayers,” enthused pastor Washington Obonyo.
In Russia, in his first state of the nation address, President Medvedev did not directly congratulate Obama, but said he hoped the new administration would mend damaged relations between the two countries, suggesting it was up to the U.S. to take the first steps. Russia hoped that Obama would “make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia,” Medvedev said.
He then announced the deployment of short-range Iskander missiles in Russia’s Baltic enclave Kaliningrad, which he said would “neutralize” the planned U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In Italy, as millions stayed up late Tuesday to watch the all-night TV coverage, media mogul-turned-premier Berlusconi, among President Bush’s strongest allies in Europe, told reporters he “was going to bed early.”
Berlusconi congratulated Obama on Wednesday but added he would offer him “some advice, given my age and experience.” Berlusconi, who has been in politics since 1994, is 72.
Meanwhile, right-winger Maurizio Gasparri, Senate leader of Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom Party, sparked an uproar by stating on Italian state radio that “with Obama in the White House, perhaps al Qaeda is happier.”
As for Italian headlines, they ranged from the jubilant “Obama president, it’s another America” banner on leftist La Repubblica to the more matter-of-fact “Obama president, America changes” on Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale.
In Blighty, impromptu celebratory parties were held in many urban centers, especially liberal strongholds like London, Manchester and Brighton, and millions stayed up through the night glued to their TVs as results rolled in. This included a huge number of teens and twentysomethings — surprising given their reputation for political apathy.
The reaction in the U.K. was pretty much unanimous — huge approval and relief that the U.S. will soon attempt to rid itself of the Bush legacy. And normally restrained Brits were telling one another they cried on hearing Obama’s acceptance speech.
A party atmosphere reigned on the airwaves too, with BBC DJ Chris Moyles, host of the country’s most popular radio show, marking the occasion on air by singing “Obama is president” to the theme tune of “Star Wars.”
Newspaper leader columns, while acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead for the president-elect, also opted for an upbeat note.
In its leader, the left-leaning Guardian concluded: “Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America’s hope and, in no small way, ours too.”
A lone sour note was struck by Rupert Murdoch. Interviewed by BBC News, the News Corp. topper expressed concern that Obama would take the U.S. in a “different and dangerous direction” by encouraging more economic protectionism.
In Spain, Obama’s victory was greeted with hope and glee.
“The news of the century” proclaimed El Pais, Spain’s most-read quality daily. “King’s dream has come true,” brayed right-wing newsie El Mundo, referring to Martin Luther King’s famous speech.
Over in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Obama on his “historic victory.”
“Obama awakens the new America,” read the headline on Der Spiegel’s website. The magazine said Obama’s victory was a clear sign that the country hopes to overcome its “gigantic problems” through “hope” and “faith in its self.”
The influential Sueddeutsche Zeitung said “America has reinvented itself.”
Spellbound by the drama of the U.S. elections, Germans stayed up late into the night Tuesday. Close to 2.5 million viewers followed the elections on ZDF, ARD, RTL and Sat.1.
In Mexico, an editorial cartoon in Wednesday’s El Universal newspaper titled “Double feat” featured a smiling Obama signing “V” for victory with the broken shackles of slavery on his wrists.
The headlines and radio commentators chimed in with the rest of the world in awe of the fact that an African-American had done the heretofore unimaginable.
Over in the Middle East, media commentators took a break from their usual world-weary cynicism to acknowledge the historic moment represented by Obama’s resounding victory.
“People here have been impressed by the overwhelming result in favor of Obama,” said Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, editor-in-chief of leading pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya. “There is some hope that a new era will begin. There may be too much expectation already, but the majority of Arab intellectuals are finding comfort in the result.”
(Steve Clarke, Nick Holdsworth, John Hopewell, Ali Jaafar, Ted Johnson, Ed Meza, Archie Thomas, Bill Triplett, Nick Vivarelli and James Young contributed to this report.)