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US election Obama win forces Republican soul-searching

That winning feeling might not last: challenges lie ahead for Obama

That winning feeling might not last: challenges lie ahead for Obama

(AFP)

Barack Obama has captured a second White House term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Observers, also in Switzerland, are now calling on the Republicans to move away from the extremes.

In Bern, the US Ambassador to Switzerland told swissinfo.ch that the top priority in bilateral relations remained working out agreements on tax and banking secrecy between the two countries – “the greatest source of tension in the relationship right now”.

Obama told a rally of cheering Democrat supporters in Chicago that the election "reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back”.

For the United States, "the best is yet to come”, he said.

Obama captured the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, despite having led the country through its most difficult economic times since the Great Depression in the 1930s, a time of high unemployment and anxiety about the future.

Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not.

Romney conceded defeat from his headquarters in Boston nearly two hours after US networks called the incumbent’s win with battleground state Ohio voting in Obama’s favour.

"This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation," Romney told supporters after calling Obama to congratulate him.

“Source of tension”

The Swiss government, like many others, congratulated Obama for his win, saying that it looked forward to pursuing the close collaboration with the United States. It added in a statement that it hoped to reinforce the “many and varied ties that link the two countries.”

In the Swiss capital Bern, US Ambassador to Switzerland Donald Beyer, a Virginia Democrat and Obama backer, told swissinfo.ch he hoped the president might decide to visit Switzerland during his second term.

“He’s never been [to Switzerland] but his great-great-great-grandmother came from canton Fribourg so it would be wonderful to reconnect him with his Swiss roots,” he said.

Beyer also stressed the continued goal of working out agreements on tax and banking secrecy between Switzerland and the US.

“The number one priority remains resolving the bank secrecy-US tax cheat controversy – and we don’t really have any direct control [over that] here at the embassy, because it’s being negotiated by the Department of Justice lawyers,” he said.

“But that’s our first priority because it’s the greatest source of tension in the relationship right now.”

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said that now the election had been “cleared up”, Obama’s second and final period in office would enable both sides to address the tax and banking issues “without having to keep an eye on the election campaign”.

Most main political parties in Switzerland said they were satisfied with the result, except for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, a representative of whom said he was "disappointed".

The centre-right Conservative Democratic Party said in a statement to swissinfo.ch that it was pleased with Obama’s re-election even though it was unlikely to yield any progress in the tax dispute with the US anytime soon with other priorities looming.

"Now the banking issue has to be dealt with, otherwise it could affect other areas of trade," Martin Naville, chief executive of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, told the Swiss News Agency.

Naville, who noted that Romney also could have been a good president, said he believed that Hurricane Sandy had helped Obama to win the election because it gave him the chance to take on the role of hero.

Divided country

In Geneva, Obama supporters cried and shouted their relief at the news that their man was re-elected for another four years.

“I feel absolutely relieved, overwhelmed and very, very proud of the vote,” said Sarah Burkhalter, an art historian from Geneva University. “But I’m realistic that this is just half of the country; the country is very divided.”

“It’s redeeming for us as Americans abroad,” another Obama backer, Therese Betchov told swissinfo.ch.

“We’ve been watching the closeness of the lead-up and the ideological divide. This is really significant; it's not just a victory, but a strong victory which sends a big message for America.”

The win for the Democrat also reflected Americans' suspicions about Romney, who had a history of shifting positions to keep pace with the increasingly hard-right political stands of his Republican party.

Speaking in Chicago, Charles Adams, the Geneva-based co-president of Americans Abroad for Obama, told Swiss public radio that the Republicans needed to review their options after Romney’s defeat.

“This party is headed towards political extinction unless it becomes reasonable again and plays a constructive role in this country’s future, which wasn’t necessarily the case during Obama’s first mandate,” he said.

Political compromise ahead

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) wrote on Wednesday that the Republicans needed to realise that representing elderly whites was no recipe for future success as the United States continues to become more ethnically diverse.

For the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich, the Republicans failed to conquer the White House and the Senate because they embraced extreme positions.

The NZZ warned, however, that Congress could remain deadlocked with the Republicans keeping the upper hand in the House of Representatives.

Alfred Mettler, associate professor of finance at Georgia State University and Zurich University, told Swiss television that America’s problems would not be solved by one party alone and that finding consensus would be important.

“Obama will have to play golf with the Republicans,” he added.

In a statement, the centre-right Christian Democratic Party told swissinfo.ch that "with the House in Republican hands, Obama will be forced to seek compromises. We hope that he will be successful in this, both at home and abroad."

Like many observers, the NZZ pointed out that a political compromise would be needed soon to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, the convergence of the end of a series of tax measures and a reduction of the budget deficit. Experts have warned it could plunge the US into further recession.


(With input from Veronica DeVore and Simon Bradley), swissinfo.ch


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