Barack Obama has made history by being elected as the first black president of America.
The Democrat candidate won a decisive victory, gaining over 349 Electoral College votes- far more than the 270 needed- and expanding his party’s majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Electoral turnout was unprecedentedly high in some areas, with an estimate 130 million Americans or more casting their vote- more than for any election since 1960.
In his victory speech, Obama said: “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.”
George W Bush congratulated Obama on ‘an impressive victory’, saying: “History was made yesterday.” He said that Obama could count on his ‘complete co-operation’ during the transition.
Republican candidate John McCain conceded defeat, calling on his supporters to ‘join me in not just congratulating but offering our next president our goodwill.’
Obama welcomed this gesture as ‘extraordinarily gracious’ and called McCain a ‘brave and selfless leader’ who ‘has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine.’
Obama is not taking office in the easiest of circumstances; America is facing economic recession and war overseas. Yet Obama does not appear daunted by the problems facing him, saying: “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. But America- I have never been more hopeful that I am tonight that we will get there.”
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker for the House of Representatives, said: “Tonight the American people have called for a new direction. They have called for a change for America.”
It has yet to be seen how far Obama will represent a new beginning for America.
In his campaign he promised to withdraw troops from Iraq and to meet with the leaders of countries hostile to the USA such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.
He also pledged to give tax cuts to Americans earning under $200,000- affecting about 95% of the population- while raising taxes on those making over $250,000. Inheriting a budget deficit running into hundreds of billions of dollars and a national debt of over $11trillion, he might struggle to keep this vow.
Nonetheless, many Americans have welcomed Obama’s win as a sign of America leaving behind its troubled racial history.
Obama was born in 1961 when America was still highly segregated, but at his inauguration on January 20 2009, Barack Obama will fulfil a dream that many thought impossible.
Since the US Civil War there have been just three black senators, and only two states- Massachusetts and Virginia- have elected a black governor.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed the results, saying: “It begins to be accepted that young men and women of colour can certainly dream the biggest dreams.”
Many leading international figures, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown also welcomed the results.
Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela said in a letter to Obama:
“Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”
The President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, who has declared a national holiday to celebrate, said: “We the Kenyan people are immensely proud of your Kenyan roots. Your victory is not only an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance with us here in Kenya.”
International expectations for Obama are extremely high; now the world will be watching to see whether he will be able to fulfil them.