Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US Presidential Election 2012: Barack Obama Gets Second Term in White House

Fifty-one-year-old African-American Barack Hussein Obama was reelected as the US president on November 7, defeating his Republican rival Mitt Romney in a hard-fought and expensive battle, but he will have to contend with a gridlocked US Congress.

It was not such a long night after all as Obama swept the polls, proving wrong many a pundit who had predicted a close contest, to secure himself a second term at the White House. In fact, not only did the incumbent President doggedly defend the Democratic bastions of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan but the blue wave that he unleashed also swallowed whole the swing States of Virginia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa and Ohio — effectively shutting out all routes to victory for his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Obama’s reelection bid by a narrow margin gives him four more years in an American environment that is challenging by any standards. Just before he took over as the first black President in his country’s history, he faced the biggest recession that hit his homeland since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In securing his place in history, however, he will have to continue to face the challenges of a divided nation and Congress, as the popular vote in the highly divisive election was split evenly between him and his Republican rival, Romney, at 49 per cent.

It is a vote for Obama’s stress on jobs, health-care reform and pro-gay, pro-abortion and pro-immigrant policies. Soon after the result, a relieved but energetic Obama promised “the best is yet to come”. It will, however, be a tough going for the new President as the Republicans have retained their hold on the House of Representatives, though the Senate stays with the Democrats.

Obama, however, faces the prospect of renewed challenges posed by a divided Congress with the Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives and his fellow-Democrats maintaining their hold of Senate.

Election Process
US presidential elections are decided by an electoral college, which gives states a certain number of electoral votes based on population. A candidate must get 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Preliminary indications suggested that voter turnout was lower this year than the breathtaking levels that it soared to in 2008. Although it peaked at close to 70 per cent in some States such as Wisconsin, it also dropped heavily in others, by around 11 per cent in Texas.

The biggest plunge by far, according to media reports quoting a study by American University, was in Eastern Seaboard States that were still recovering from the devastation in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which caused major property damage and knocked out power for millions, thus disrupting standard voting practices.

Obama shot past the 270 mark, garnering 303 electoral votes and winning most of the battleground states. On November 7, a final result was awaited in Florida, where the President had a narrow lead. Florida has 29 electoral votes.
Romney got 206 electoral votes. While the electoral vote margin was significant, the difference between the two candidates in the popular vote was much smaller. Obama got 50 per cent of the popular vote compared to 48 per cent for Romney, a Mormon. In all, Obama won 25 states and the District of Columbia, while Romney won 24 states.

In the 100-member Senate, the Democrats now have 52 seats, a net gain of one seat. The Republicans are left with 45 seats, with a net loss of one seat. Two independents usually caucus with the Democrats.

Two Republican candidates who had made controversial comments on the subject of rape and abortion during campaigning ended up losing the race. Both of them were Tea Party favorites – Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri.

Road to Success
Undoubtedly, it is true that for all his achievements, including the risky directive to get Osama Bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout, Obama’s four years are a litany of broken promises. He dramatically announced the closure of the notorious Guantanamo prison complex in a year and made a clarion call to the Muslim world from Cairo and promised to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Guantanamo is still very much in existence and the Palestinian plight in overthrowing Israeli rule has never been more desperate, with more and more Palestinian land being colonized with little more than hand-wringing from the Obama administration.
On Guantanamo, he met stout Republican opposition in Congress, and on Israel he was up against the insurmountable Jewish lobby’s hold on the American political system, which has supported and helped the Israeli state in every way since the British departed from the region. It is an indication of Tel Aviv’s ability to influence US policy in the Middle East, as the world calls it, that going against Israel’s interests, whatever the cost to Washington, is a sure road to calumny and oblivion for any American leader.
Focus on Challenges
It is equally true that Americans are tired of fighting wars, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, and American help in the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was described as “leading from behind” by placing the European powers in front in the Nato air war camouflaging key US inputs.

The Iraq war, perhaps the greatest mistake of the George W. Bush presidency, was wound down and a timeline was set at 2014 for withdrawal from Afghanistan. In addition, President Obama has been seeking to temper Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belligerence on Iran.

President Obama’s priority must, however, be to make the congressional system work. There are many anomalies in the US electoral system — for instance, Electoral College votes based on state quotas trumping the popular vote — and the President’s right to appoint justices of the Supreme Court is flawed.

It is expected that Obama will push for higher taxes on the wealthy so as to trim down the debt burden and also generate money for his pet programs. Equally importantly, he will try to cut a massive financial deal with Congress in the coming months to reduce the budgetary deficit.

Barack is unlikely to do any major change on the foreign policy front. This is a comfortable scenario for India because Obama had amended his policy initiatives vis-à-vis India after his pro-China posturing during the initial months of his first term. He quickly realized the merits in the policy pursued by the George W. Bush administration which had clinched the historic nuclear deal with India. It was a matter of relief for India when he ultimately reverted to Bush’s policy, which was aimed at containing China to protect US interests in East Asia. Attempts at the containment of China were essential as most countries in the region are scared of an over-assertive China, which sees itself as the future superpower.

However, Pakistan and Iran must be feeling uncomfortable with Obama’s reelection as US President, as there is unlikely to be any let-up in the drive to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapon capability and the targeting of Taliban activists in Pakistan’s tribal areas through drone attacks. Of course, Barack Obama, whose forefathers were Muslim Kenyans and who spent his early childhood in Indonesia, no longer has to prove that he cannot be soft toward these countries posing threat to global peace. The truth is that no US President can afford to be lax towards terrorists or an Iran which is considered more dangerous for peace in West Asia than Israel by US allies like Saudi Arabia.

Boost to Indo-US Ties
Obama’s reelection is a good news for the Indian economy, although balance will have to be established between rhetoric and practicality on prickly issues like outsourcing of IT services.

With elections out of the way and status quo maintained, India Inc is betting on increased focus on reviving growth in the US which will also lift its own fortunes and also spur growth across the world. Being one of India’s largest trading partners, the US accounts for more than 13 per cent of total Indian exports and 60 per cent of IT exports.The recent reforms initiated by the UPA government are expected to enhance the Indo-US economic partnership.

The US accounts for more than 13 percent of total Indian exports and 60 percent of IT exports. The feeling is that Obama’s win will ensure continuity in growing India-US relations.

The issue of curbing outsourcing, which Obama made a poll plank, remains to be sorted out. Indian IT firms hope to get an opportunity to partner with US companies to achieve growth targets.

India’s exports to the US grew from $17.24 billion to $19.61 billion, showing a growth of 15 per cent during April-September, 2012, over the corresponding period last year. The share of the US in total exports went up to 13.88 per cent and it has surpassed the UAE as the prime destination of India’s exports.

On defense front, Obama’s reelection is set to boost the defense relations between New Delhi and Washington with focus on technology sharing, joint research, co-production of defense equipment and increased military engagement.

In his first term in 2009, Obama had opened the gates for US companies to enter the multi-billion dollar Indian defense market that was essentially dominated by the Russians and Israelis. As a result, India placed a huge order for US-produced defense equipment worth $9 billion – approximately Rs 47,000 crore. Obama’s second term promises even more deeper ties with India. It was illustrated by US Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta visit to India in June when he listed out several long term partnerships in the defense sector.

In the past four years, New Delhi has ordered medium lift transport planes (C-130-J), heavy lift planes (C-17 Globemaster) and long-range maritime reconnaissance planes (Boeing P8-I). The ties took a significant upswing last month when India gave nod to the purchase of Boeing ‘Apache’ attack chopper.

The US president presides over a superpower on the retreat and is more concerned about fixing economic problems back home rather than playing the global “supercop”. By and large, he has not created or aggravated tensions. Having friendly relations with India may be part of the US policy to counter the rise of China, but the change has not hurt India’s interests.

To what degree Obama is successful in this regard will depend on how well he can reach out to the Republicans. He will be well advised to do so with utmost sincerity, as this and other such deals will determine his presidential legacy, which otherwise stands the risk of being rendered hollow by petty partisan politics. All it needs is a new resolve to move away from strange ideologies and beliefs that seem to thrive in the free American air to the detriment of logic and common sense.

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