TOKYO, (AP) – In city squares and living rooms, ballrooms and villages, the citizens of the world cheered the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, ratcheting up hopes that America’s first black commander in chief would herald a more balanced, less confrontational America.
People crowded before TVs or listened to blaring radios for the latest updates. In Sydney, Australians filled a hotel ballroom. In Rio, Brazilians partied on the beach. In the town of Obama, in Japan, dancers cheered in delight when their namesake’s victory was declared.
People the world over — many of them in countries where the idea of a minority being elected leader is unthinkable — expressed amazement and satisfaction that the United States could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American — and one with Hussein as a middle name — as president.
“What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had,” said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck’s in Bangkok. “He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president.”
In an interconnected world where people in its farthest reaches could monitor the presidential race blow-by-blow, many observers echoed Obama’s own campaign mantra as they struggled to put into words their sense that his election marked an important turning point.
“I really think this is going to change the world,” gushed Akihiko Mukohama, 34, the lead singer of a band that traveled to Obama, Japan, to perform — wearing an “I Love Obama” T-shirt — at a promotional event for the president-elect.
The magnitude and emotion of the world reaction illustrated the international character of the U.S. presidency. Many look to Washington as the place where the global issues of war and peace, prosperity or crisis, are decided.
“This is an enormous outcome for all of us,” said John Wood, the former New Zealand ambassador to the U.S. “We have to hope and pray that President Obama can move forward in ways which are constructive and beneficial to all of us.”
Hopes were also high among those critical of President George W. Bush’s policies that an Obama victory would herald a more inclusive, internationally cooperative U.S. approach. Many cited the Iraq war as the type of blunder Obama was unlikely to repeat.
At a party in Rio de Janeiro where Brazilians and Americans watched results come in, 33-year-old music producer Zanna said an Obama win would show that “Americans have learned something from the bad experiences of the Bush administration and that they choose well — that they choose Obama.”
Indeed, even as they raised expectations, many U.S.-watchers were quick to point out that Obama would have to confront enormous problems once in office: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tenacious difficulties in the Middle East and North Korea, a world economy in turmoil.
Europe, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular, is one region that looked eagerly to an Obama administration for a revival in warm relations after the Bush government’s chilly rift with the continent over the Iraq war.
“At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama.
Skepticism, however, was high in the Muslim world. The Bush administration alienated those in the Middle East by mistreating prisoners at its detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — human rights violations also condemned worldwide.
Some Iraqis, who have suffered through five years of a war ignited by the United States and its allies, said they would believe positive change when they saw it.
“Obama’s victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue,” said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. “I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises.”
In Pakistan, a country vital to the U.S.-led war on the al-Qaida terrorist network and neighbor to Afghanistan, many hoped Obama would bring some respite from rising militant violence that many blame on Bush.
Still, Mohammed Arshad, a 28-year-old schoolteacher in the capital, Islamabad, doubted Obama’s ability to change U.S. foreign policy dramatically.
“It is true that Bush gave America a very bad name. He has become a symbol of hate. But I don’t think the change of face will suddenly make any big difference,” he said.
Many expressed hopes that Obama would restore the American economic leadership they said was needed for the world to reverse a punishing financial meltdown. Some in Asia, a region heavily dependent on exports to the U.S. market, worried the Democrat would try to protect American producers at their expense.
“The one thing that I don’t approve of Obama is that he is an economic protectionist. He’s in favor of protected economies, instead of free markets,” said university student Yu Fangjing, 20, in Hong Kong. “It’s not good for the world.”
Still, many around the world found Obama’s international roots — his father was Kenyan, and he lived four years in Indonesia as a child — compelling and attractive.
Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday in honor of Obama’s election victory, and people across Africa stayed up all night or woke before dawn Wednesday to watch the U.S. election results roll in.
“He’s in!” said Rachel Ndimu, 23, a business student who joined hundreds of others at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Nairobi. “I think this is awesome, and the whole world is backing him.”
In Jakarta, hundreds of students at his former elementary school gathered around a television set to watch as results came in, erupting in cheers when he was declared winner and then pouring into the courtyard where they hugged each other and danced in the rain.
“We’re so proud!” Alsya Nadin, a spunky 10-year-old in pink-framed glasses, said as her classmates chanted “Obama! Obama!”