Americans in Geneva await election outcome

Democrats in Switzerland chair Caitlin Buchman and husband Dieter Kraft are hoping for a Kerry win Keystone

Members of Geneva’s 7,000-strong American community have spent a nail-biting night watching coverage of the United States presidential race, which is still too close to call.

This content was published on November 3, 2004 - 06:01

swissinfo's Anna Nelson was with both Democrats and Republicans at a bipartisan event.

An estimated 600 people turned out for the party, which featured live music, dancing, speeches and plenty of heated debate.

“The atmosphere was very exciting,” said Janet Voute, head of the Geneva-based American International Club (AIC), which hosted the event.

“The irony is that if the international community was voting, there would be no nail-biting… but it’s an American vote, so there’s been a lot of tension,” she added.

Her comments were echoed by the mayor of Geneva, Pierre Muller, who said he was taking part in the festivities as a “representative of the Swiss and as a friend of America”.

“As Swiss citizens and as Genevans, this event is very important for us,” Muller told swissinfo.

“This is a very international city that depends on the world’s geopolitical situation... what happens in the US is of utmost importance to us.”

Rallying support

Throughout the night, guests wearing red, white and blue piled into Geneva’s Ramada Park Hotel, where they had the chance to hear speeches from supporters of both the Republican incumbent, President Bush, and his Democratic rival, John Kerry.

“America faces a fundamental choice… the choice of a lifetime,” Caitlin Buchman, the chair of Democrats Abroad Switzerland, told a cheering crowd earlier in the evening, before any polls had closed in the US.

“We must bring back the America we love and the America the world once admired… John Kerry is the one to do that,” she added.

But not everyone in the room shared her enthusiasm for the Kerry campaign. Edward Flaherty of Republicans Abroad said the threat of terrorism was the main reason he wanted to see Bush re-elected.

“Nothing we can say here tonight will change the outcome of the vote,” Flaherty said in his speech.

“But it’s important to explain why we think George W Bush should win… and simply put, it is because of the events of September 11, 2001.

"Many Americans and Republicans are not happy about the way America is looked at overseas these days. But we’re much more concerned about security and we hope that we will prevail,” he added.

Pro-Kerry

The evening also featured a straw poll conducted by the AIC, which revealed that the vast majority of the party’s participants were in favour of Kerry.

According to the unofficial survey, which included Americans as well as Swiss citizens and members of the international community, 81.5 per cent of the 368 people questioned hoped Kerry would be elected.

Just 9.8 per cent of those present came out in support of Bush, while 19 people said they hoped the independent candidate, Ralph Nader, would win.

Voute told swissinfo she suspected that many Republicans at the event had “kept their heads down” as a result of the anti-Bush sentiment in the room.

“They were aware of the outcome of the poll and I think they probably kept a lower profile than they would have done in a national environment,” she said.

Representatives at the relatively deserted Republicans Abroad stand said they had witnessed some people asking for pro-Bush material before tearing it up in front of the Democrats Abroad booth across the room.

“I certainly did not see any of that,” Buchman told swissinfo. “If it’s true, it’s terrible and that’s certainly not how real Democrats would act.”

Healing wounds

But despite reports of isolated incidents of animosity, the atmosphere throughout the night was generally amicable and festive.

“It was a fantastic night and events like this show that Americans of differing viewpoints can come together,” said Buchman.

“But it’s going to take more than a party to heal the wounds in America… we need to be rigorous with ourselves and have a real debate and really talk to each other about our differences."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

Roughly 15,000 American citizens are registered as living in Switzerland.
Around 7,000 Americans are estimated to live in the lake Geneva region, while around 3,000 are thought to live in the Zurich area.
The world headquarters of American Citizens Abroad is located in Geneva, which is also home to Switzerland’s American International Club.

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