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Obamania grips Cambodia

Obamania grips Cambodia


Events at the FCC and the US embassy allow people to celebrate and learn about Senator Barack Obama's meteoric rise to the American presidency

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge Roy

An organiser of the Democrats Abroad Group celebrates after Barack Obama won the US presidential election.



Voter turnout reached a level unseen for a century in the historic election that swept Barack Obama to power as US president, according to data published by analysts on Wednesday. Two-thirds of voters turned out nationwide, a record not beaten since 1908. AFP

WHEN CNN called the presidential election for Senator Barack Obama Wednesday morning, Cambodia time, the more than 100 Obama supporters gathered at the FCC bar and restaurant danced, screamed and sprayed foam on each other as confetti fell from the ceiling. After eight years of a Republican administration, the celebration seemed a long time coming for these die-hard Democrats.

"I am so happy, just so relieved. I feel like we are finally free," Talia Mota, 25, said with tears in her eyes, moments after the win was announced.

Not too far from the FCC event, hosted by the Democrats Abroad Group, the American embassy held their own party.

Though more low key than the party at the FCC - here, CNN's announcement was met with handshakes rather than hugs - the embassy party's organisers viewed the event as no less successful.

"Nobody in the embassy would have gotten any work done anyways, so we decided to hold a party.... I'm delighted with the turnout, energy and interest in this election," embassy interim ambassador Piper Campbell said.

In contrast to the FCC bash, the US embassy used their more subdued event as a learning opportunity for Cambodians, exposing them to American participatory democracy by holding a mock election and projecting American news on two giant screens.

"It lets us highlight participatory democracy," John Johnson, the embassy spokesman, said.

Like the FCC party, however, the embassy event was heavily Democratic with the mock election putting Obama on top 72 votes to 25.  

One Senator John McCain supporter, Chan Sambath, a student at Pannasastra University, was disappointed by the end result but was impressed by the American electoral system.

"I voted for John McCain [in the embassy's mock election], and I feel sorry [he lost]. But I still think the US democracy has been around for a long time, and Cambodia should follow its example," he said.

In her speech to the crowd, Campbell admitted, "With its maps and electoral college, the US electoral process is certainly complex to understand".

But the US embassy did what it could to educate people about American elections, even going as far as including a 60-page booklet explaining the ins and outs of the US electoral system.

Sopha Ratana, 23, an English teacher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, called the complicated electoral college system a "headache", but said the event made him realise the American system can still be an example for Cambodia.

"The dissemination of information in the States is really good. Everybody can know about the candidates, and every American can vote," he said.

The crowd at both the FCC and the embassy were impressed by McCain's concession speech. At the FCC, people commented that the speech was delivered with dignity, and Campbell at the US embassy said that McCain's speech was a fine example of a graceful concession that will

surely lead to a smooth transfer of power. "This a lesson that many countries around the world can learn from," she said.

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker who voted for Obama in the embassy's mock election, hopes the world can learn a different lesson from the election of Obama.

He told the Post, "I like McCain. He understands Cambodia.... but looking beyond Cambodia, I hope Obama will bring a more peaceful world.

Living in Australia, I encountered racism, and I hope his election will send a message to the world that skin colour doesn't reflect the value of a human being."

Lulu Chevna, 25, who recently arrived from Zambia, holds a similar hope for the future and sees Obama as an example that her nephew could one day follow.

"See my little nephew over there? He could be Obama one day. He has an American mother and a Zambian father - this is simply a joyous occasion."