The world was riveted by the election drama unfolding Tuesday in the United States, inspired by Barack Obama or simply relieved that — whoever wins — the Bush administration was coming to an end.
From Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to the small town of Obama, Japan, the globe geared up to celebrate a fresh start for America.
In Germany, where more than 200,000 flocked to see Obama this summer as he moved to burnish his foreign policy credentials during a trip to the Middle East and Europe, the election dominated television ticker crawls, newspaper headlines and Web sites.
Hundreds of thousands prepared to party through the night to watch the outcome of an election having an impact far beyond America’s shores. Among the more irreverent festivities planned in Paris: a “Goodbye George” party to bid farewell to Bush.
“Like many French people, I would like Obama to win because it would really be a sign of change,” said Vanessa Doubine, shopping Tuesday on the Champs-Elysees. “I deeply hope for America’s image that it will be Obama.”
Europeans had a sense of the momentous change that was about to unfold, whether the winner was Obama or Republican John McCain.
“America is electing a new president, but for the Germans, for Europeans, it is electing the next world leader,” said Alexander Rahr, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
“We see new challenges coming up, not only Islamic extremism, but a newly resurgent Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea — everywhere there are fires,” he said. “And we, as Europeans, can’t solve these problems without America. A world without American leadership is, for most Europeans, a world of chaos.”
Germany’s mass-circulation daily Bild lionized the Republican as “the War Hero” and running mate Sarah Palin as “the Beautiful Unknown.”
In Berlin, Republicans Abroad organized a “November Surprise Election Party” to watch live “how the Republican ticket McCain/Palin comes from behind and leaves the ‘liberal elite media’ in Europe and the United States puzzled.”
In much of the Islamic world, Muslims expressed hope that the U.S. would seek compromise rather than confrontation.
The Bush administration alienated Muslims 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.
“I hope Obama wins (because) of the need of the world to see the U.S. represent a more cosmopolitan or universal political attitude,” said Rais Yatim, the foreign minister of mostly Muslim Malaysia.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledged that Afghanistan “will remain a close friend of the United States” regardless of who wins.
“The new president will have an impact on the economic and political situation in my country,” said Muhammad al-Thaheri, 48, a civil servant in Saudi Arabia. Like so many around the world, he was rooting for Obama “because he will change the path the U.S. is on under Bush.”
Nizar al-Kortas, a columnist for Kuwait’s Al-Anbaa newspaper, saw an Obama victory as “a historic step to change the image of the arrogant American administration to one that is more acceptable in the world.”
Yet McCain enjoyed a strong current of support in countries such as Israel, where he is perceived as tougher on Iran.
Israeli leaders, who consider the U.S. their closest and most important ally, have not openly declared a preference. But privately, they have expressed concern about Obama, who has alarmed some by saying he would be ready to hold a dialogue with Tehran.
Taking a cigarette break on a Jerusalem street corner, bank employee Leah Nizri, 53, said Obama represented potentially frightening change.
“I think he’ll be pleasant to Israel, but he will make changes,” she said. “He’s too young. I think that especially in a situation of a world recession, where things are so unclear in the world, McCain would be better than Obama.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown clung to convention by refusing to say which candidate he wants to see win. Regardless of the outcome, he told Al-Arabiya television while on a tour of the Gulf, “history has been made in this campaign.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson — a Conservative — felt less constrained about rooting for the liberal Obama.
“For those who have become disenchanted with America — including many Americans — (Obama) offers the hope of re-igniting the love affair,” he said.
And other Europeans made much of Obama’s ethnicity. “It’s a sort of pardon of America for its slave past,” said Alain Barret, a bank teller in Paris. “It lets America turn an important page in its history.”
“It would be fantastic to have a non-white president,” added Letisha Brown, a Londoner.
In Baghdad, a jaded Mohammed al-Tamimi said he didn’t think U.S. policy on Iraq would change. Even so, “we hope that the new American president will open a new page with our country.”
Kenyans made their allegiance clear: Scores packed churches on Tuesday to pray for Obama, whose late father was born in the East African nation, and hailed the candidate — himself born in Hawaii — as a “son of the soil.”
“Tonight we are not going to sleep,” said Valentine Wambi, 23, a student at the University of Nairobi. “It will be celebrations throughout.”
Kenyans believe an Obama victory wouldn’t change their lives much, but that hasn’t stopped them from splashing his picture on minibuses and selling T-shirts with his name and likeness. Kenyans were planning to gather around radios and TV sets starting Tuesday night as the results come in.
In the sleepy Japanese coastal town of Obama — which translates as “little beach” — images of him adorned banners along a main shopping street, and preparations for an election day victory party were in full swing.
Election fever also ran high in Vietnam, where McCain was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years after being shot down in Hanoi during a 1967 bombing run.
“He’s patriotic,” said Le Lan Anh, a Vietnamese novelist and real estate tycoon. “As a soldier, he came here to destroy my country, but I admire his dignity.”