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Americans in Geneva play waiting game

Disappointment for a supporter of Democratic candidate John Kerry at the election party in Geneva as polls predict a Bush win Keystone

Members of Geneva’s 7,000-strong American community are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the closely fought United States presidential race.

With results already in from most states, President Bush has established a lead, but the outcome could hinge on the state of Ohio where vote counting is continuing.

swissinfo’s Anna Nelson spent Tuesday night in the company of both Democrats and Republicans at a bipartisan election event in Geneva.

An estimated 600 people turned out for the party, which was hosted by the American International Club (AIC) and featured live music, dancing, speeches and plenty of heated debate.

As the event drew to a close on Wednesday morning the result was still too close to call, but Bill Olenick, a long-time member of Republicans Abroad in Switzerland, was in no doubt that President Bush would be re-elected.

“I’ll go out on the line and say it’s a clear win,” Olenick told swissinfo. “I’m totally confident.”

But Democrat supporters cautioned against jumping to conclusions, and said Bush’s challenger, Senator John Kerry, was still in with a chance.

“It would have been nice to have a clear Kerry win and to be dancing and celebrating this morning,” said Caitlin Buchman, the head of Democrats Abroad Switzerland. “But it’s not over yet.”

“The essence of a democracy is that every vote counts and that every person believes their voice should be heard.”

Strong voice

Andy Sundberg, spokesman for American Citizens Abroad, said that regardless of the outcome, Americans overseas had found a stronger voice this time around.

“Voter participation was much higher [among Americans abroad] than ever before,” Sundberg told swissinfo. “I think that both domestically and internationally the role of Americans overseas will be seen as more and more important as a result of this election.”

An American exchange student who watched the coverage all night said that during her time in Europe she had been struck by the media criticism of the Bush administration.

“If Bush is re-elected it will further deepen the split between Europe and the US,” she said.

But Sundberg said he didn’t agree that anti-Americanism was likely to grow following a Bush win, and said Americans would not be held accountable for electing a leader disliked by many Europeans.

Healing wounds

Caitlin Buchman said the amicable atmosphere at the event had shown that “Americans of differing viewpoints can come together.”

“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.”

Bill Olenick disagreed, arguing that whoever won would not be faced with a deeply divided country.

“The country is only divided for those who want it to be,” Olenick said. “And what we all hope for now is a completely free and democratic world.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

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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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR