Early Celebrations in Phnom Penh After Obama Victory in US

As day broke Wednesday, preliminary results from the US election crept in from the other side of the globe, setting the stage for two dramatically different Phnom Penh parties where—like the American electorate—the participants were pleased that Barack Obama won the presidency.

Elation at Obama’s expected victory over US Senator John McCain was obvious at the FCC on Sisowath Quay. About 600 people filtered in and out of the restaurant, where continuous CNN commentary and rock music boomed, all compliments of Democrats Abroad.

Confetti, tears and cocktails flowed freely when it became apparent by late morning that Obama had won the majority of electoral votes, which are necessary to become president.

“I’m so excited, I almost can’t speak,” said Jane McAlevy, 44, a tourist from Las Vegas, Nevada. She downed a tequila shot to celebrate the victory and said she had been awake for more than 48 hours because she was so preoccupied with watching election results come in.

“This is the first time I have really been proud to be an Ame­rican,” McAlevy continued. “Be­cause we did the unthinkable by electing the young one, a 47-year-old president who is black, against all odds.”

There’s an estimated 3,000 US citizens living in Cambodia, ac­cording to the US Embassy, which collected and mailed ballots to US residents of Cambodia prior to Tuesday’s vote.

Most of those who attended the event at the FCC were those US expatriates.

“When you’re abroad, there’s a lot of that feeling of isolation, so being here among all this excitement you’re not,” said David Klei­man, 43, a telecoms consultant from San Francisco, California.

That Obama is African-Ame­rican was widely regarded as historic among the FCC crowd.

Gabriel Kuris, a volunteer for Democrats Abroad and an early Obama supporter, said he hoped this election could be an inspiration for other countries, including Cambodia, to face up to racial issues.

“Racism isn’t only an American problem, but people have taken American racism for granted,” Kuris said. “[Obama’s election] will improve our image as a democratic country, a country able to move past its racial history,” he added.

Nearly 200 others flocked to an invitation-only election result party at the US Embassy, though it was a decidedly more staid affair, filled with dark-suited local politicians, NGO workers and university students who noshed on bacon-wrapped bananas and other Am­erican finger foods while a six-piece orchestra played in the background.

“This is not a partisan political event, but it is very much a celebration of the US’ democratic process,” Embassy Charge d’Affairs Piper Campbell told the crowd, which included the new US ambassador designate, Carol Rodley, who ar­rived in the country Wednesday morning.

Partisan or not, a mock election held during the embassy party revealed that 72 out of 97 “voters” cast ballots for Obama. And piles of Democratic Party paraphernalia were quickly depleted from a table where guests could choose from Obama or McCain stickers, buttons and placards.

“You can be assured that regardless of the rhetoric that has been dominating the airwaves for the past months, the loser in this race will gracefully concede defeat, as you heard Senator John McCain doing, and that the winner will climb to the presidency in January to a smooth transfer of power,” Campbell continued.

McCain’s conciliatory concession speech amid Obama’s looming victory—given at about 11:30 am—resonated with some of the Cam­bodians at the party.

“I think it is great and interesting that in McCain’s speech he had a very good way of saying that although he is the loser, he would work for unity and pledge to work together with the winner,” said Kang Rithisal, a Fulbright scholar.

The transfer of power from US President George W Bush’s Re­publican party is relevant for Cam­bodia, said Un Ning, a CPP lawmaker and chairman of the Nation­al Assembly’s commission on interior, national defense, investigation, anti-corruption and civil service administration.

“If McCain were to win, we will continue to be like this: no aid, no help from the US,” Un Ning said. “You know we need attention from the United States because we need aid, and some attention in the economy, and we need more military training because we need to repair our country,” he said.

“McCain should be a better candidate, a better president who will play a stronger role in the region, particularly in [the] Indochina region because of his experience with [fighting] communism,” SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said.

“But I favor Obama—not for Cambo­dia—I vote for Obama for a better world. Obama will not do much for Cambodia, but he will be more compassionate and less eager for fierce disputes because he understands the need in the world for promoting peace,” he said.

Puthea Hang, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Com­mittee for Free Elections in Cam­bodia, said authorities here, particularly the National Election Com­mittee could learn a thing, or three, from the US presidential race.

“It’s a way to see the value of neutrality for the NEC, and second to learn about the importance of the rights of voters to express their opinions, and third to learn about the authority’s roles, by which I mean that an authority should stay neutral,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)


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