M A I N   N E W S

‘Change has come’
Barack Obama first black US President-elect; raucous street celebrations across the country
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

History was made on Tuesday night as the United States of America decisively elected its first black president turning the page on an ugly past of racial prejudice and opening a chapter of hope and change. Barack Obama, a one-term Democratic senator from Illinois, trounced his Republican opponent, John McCain, by capturing key battleground states.

“It’s been a long time coming… but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America,” Obama told an ecstatic crowd of 125,000 supporters at a victory rally in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Obama, 47, the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, will become the 44th president of the United States of America. His running mate Joseph R. Biden Jr., a supporter of close US-India ties, will be the next Vice-President.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama said.

Earlier, McCain delivered his concession speech in Phoenix, Arizona. His offer of congratulations to Obama was greeted by scattered boos from a subdued Republican crowd. “We have had and argued our differences,” McCain said of his rival, “and he has prevailed.”

“This is a historic election, and I recognise the significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight,” McCain said, adding, “We both realise that we have come a long way from the injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation.”

President George W. Bush called Obama shortly after 10 p.m. on Tuesday to congratulate him on his victory. “I promise to make this a smooth transition,” the President said to Obama, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself.”

On Wednesday morning, Bush said he told Obama he could count on “complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House.” The election results are widely seen as a referendum on Bush’s eight years in the White House, which have left the country with a deficit of trillions of dollars and two costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bush also spoke to McCain and congratulated him on a determined campaign that he and running mate Sarah Palin ran. “No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday,” Bush, a Republican, said, underscoring the historic nature of the moment. He invited Obama and his wife Michelle to the White House.

The president noted that on January 20 he and his family would return “home to Texas with treasured memories of our time here - and with profound gratitude for the honor of serving this amazing country.”

Bush predicted, “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House. I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited so long.”

Obama’s victory is being compared to that of another Democratic president, John F. Kennedy in 1960. The late leader’s brother, Edward Kennedy, has been an avid supporter of Obama’s and even while battling brain cancer left his sick bed to speak in support of Obama at the Democratic National Convention in August. On Tuesday, Kennedy noted: “Today, Americans spoke loud and clear and demanded change by electing Barack Obama as our next President. They understood his vision of a fairer and more just America and embraced it. They heard his call for a new generation of Americans to participate in government and were inspired. They believed that change is possible and voted to be part of America’s future.”

“Barack Obama is my friend and tonight, I’m very proud to call him my president. I look forward to working with him and Joe Biden on the many challenges facing our country here at home and around the world,” he added.

At the time of going to press, Obama had won 349 electoral votes to McCain’s 163. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. He also won a majority of the popular vote, the first time a Democrat has secured over 50 per cent since Jimmy Carter.

The front pages of newspapers across the country were emblazoned with bold headlines proclaiming the dawn of a new era in America. “OBAMA: Racial barrier falls in decisive victory,” declared the New York Times; “Obama makes history,” the Washington Post declared.

Democrats made big gains in Congress. While they fell short of getting a filibuster proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate, in the House of Representatives they consolidated their majority. In the Senate, the Democrats had 56 seats to 41 for the Republicans. In the House, they have 252 to 173 for the Republicans.

According to exit polls, Obama crushed McCain among women voters (56 percent to 43 percent); voters under 30 (66 percent to 32 percent); African-American voters (95 percent to 4 percent); Latino voters (66 percent to 32 percent); first-time voters (68 percent to 31 percent); and voters making less than $100,000 a year (55 percent to 43 percent).

While Obama’s victory marks a milestone in American politics the real work starts when he takes the oath on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on January 20.

Obama acknowledged this task. “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there,” he said.

Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., echoed this sentiment in comments on NBC’s Today show. “We’re in deep trouble,” said Lewis, a Georgia Democrat. “We’ve got to get our economy out of the ditch, end the war in Iraq and bring our young men and women home, provide health care for all our citizens… And he’s going to call on us, I believe, to sacrifice. We all must give up something.”



What cheers India

n Natural Ally: Obama says building strategic partnership with India top priority and sees India as a natural strategic ally of the US in the 21st century.

n Terrorism and Pakistan: More focused on ending terrorism and Al-Qaida by concentrating on finishing Al-Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan and bringing stability in Afghanistan. Plans to increase aid to Afghanistan.

n Iraq and Muslim world: Promises with-drawal of troops in Iraq within 18 months - a fountainhead of hostility against the US in the Muslim world. Makes it easier for India to deal with a US with better standing in the Middle East.

n Economy: Favours greater regulation of financial institutions.

What makes India cautious

n CTBT: Obama has strong views on non-proliferation. May try to force India to accept CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and provoke a fresh debate in India on this sensitive issue. Shouldn’t be a problem after the US, China come on board.

n Kashmir: May try to play peace-keeper in Kashmir, a tendency that is likely to be resented and opposed by India which sees Kashmir as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and one that does not need third-party intervention.

n Outsourcing: India fears global financial meltdown may force Obama to turn protectionist. Obama has promised tax incentives for US companies that create new jobs.



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