Obama at a campaign event (AP Photo/John Raoux)(Credit: AP)
I never thought the US presidential elections would be such a big deal in the middle of the Pacific. For weeks up until election day, I was asked "Who are you going to vote for?" and "What's the difference between the candidates?" and informed about the latest crazy election-related news that had come out that day. Never did I expect this in Tonga.
Voting by absentee ballot for the state of Oregon was childishly easy. The only problem was the glitching, bad internet here, and the unrecognizeable IP address by some online systems. Once we got past the glitches, it was as easy as printing out a form, scanning our signatures in, and emailing the finished documents to the indicated address. We even both got email confirmations several days later that said "your vote has been processed and counted." Amazing.
Because of the time difference, the majority of the voting news happened during the day for us on election day. When I got in to work, my coworkers greeted me with "so this is the big day!" and halfway through the morning, my manager came over to my desk and very nicely asked if I wanted to watch the election news on the office cable channels for a while - because he wanted to watch it too!
Other than Tongan US citizens in Utah who preferred Romney as a fellow Mormon, Tonga and the rest of the world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when the results came through that evening that Obama had won, according to a BBC poll with the exception of Pakistan who wasn't a big fan of some of his decisions. Many here were worried about Romney's vague, US power-focused foreign policy, and baffled why anyone would vote for someone who was against public health care. Even in Tonga, with a government budget in the low millions and huge debt problems, Tongans can get free healthcare at the hospital, and foreigners pay just a small fee. Polls around the world showed that in most regions, between 70% and 90% of individuals would vote for Obama, and news bias aside, this was confirmed again and again personally for us as people here celebrated his victory.
My favorite world news from the US election was the Australian viral response to disappointed Romney supporters who said they were going to move to Australia if Obama was re-elected. One meme illustrates just how different the US is viewed by most of the world, and how closely the big US political dramas are followed - @calledfelicity writes, " To the Republicans who said they will move to Australia if Obama won: Australia has universal healthcare, no guns, no death penalty, pro-choice when it comes to contraception, openly gay politicians and judges, evolution is taught in all schools, and our female PM [Prime Minister] is an unmarried athiest. Be sure to declare your pitchforks at Tullamarine."
As many people in Tonga remarked the morning after the election, "Congratulations, Obama."