MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Early Wednesday morning, when Nepalis woke up to listen to the news, it looked like the republican candidate John McCain was leading in the polls. As election results from more states started trickling in Barack Obama overtook his opponent. By 10:30 AM Obama had won 334 electoral votes and it was clear America would have its first president of African origin.
President Ram Baran Yadav wasted no time in dashing off a congratulatory note to the president-elect. Throughout the day Nepalis closely watching the race were sending congratulatory messages to each other, Nepali blogs and message boards were full of praise for Obama, FM stations and Nepali tv channels were interviewing experts who have been following the American elections closely. In the evening many Nepalis celebrated Obama's victory with democrat American expats in Kathmandu.
American presidents these days have such a strong influence on the rest of the world many have demanded, only half-jokingly, that the rest of the world should be allowed to vote too. Obama is now not just an American president, but a world leader because what America does with its military, what Americans spend on, how much fossil fuels Americans burn have such an impact on the rest of the planet.
After eight years of the junior Bush, Americans have finally rejected his unilateralism in world affairs. Which is why this was such a closely-watched election in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Elsewhere across the world, people realised that the elections would have a bearing on global recession, international trade, investments, immigration, humanitarian assistance, remittance, military alliance and climate change. Obama is therefore the planet's president.
It turns out that the Nepali diaspora is also significantly democratic. Since Obama's victory Nepalis across the world have been asking one question: what will Obama as president mean for Nepal?
The Maoist-led government may think that the Obama administration will be more responsive to their party's removal from the terror list, but they overestimate American legal requirements for this to happen. What the euphoria of the election result conceals is the broad continuity in American foreign policy no matter who is president.
Nepalis expect Obama's America to be more immigrant friendly. He is in support of revamping the legal immigration system, against increasing the fees so that poor families who cannot afford lawyers are not left behind. Obama wants undocumented immigrants to come out of shadows and has promised to allow them to go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. For tens of thousands of Nepalis living illegally in the US this may be the chance to finally get their papers.
After 9/11 the Bush Administration put in tougher US visa restrictions for tourists and foreign students in the US. Many Nepali students started to opt to study in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and even Cyprus. Obama's victory has redeemed America's image and many are hoping that visa restrictions will be loosened so that the young students getting ready to leave to study in the US will not have to face the same hassles as before. Obama's administration has also said they would raise the cap on the number of H-1B visas issued annually so that foreign graduates can work legally in the US. This is good news for many fresh Nepali graduates.
In 2006 the US agreed to take at least 60,000 Bhutani refugees over a four-year period and give them permanent residence status. This process is expected to continue, and the quota may even increase.
Americans, who make up only four percent of the world's population consume 28 percent of its resources, including fossil fuels. Obama's commitments on curbing greenhouse gas emissions if carried through could begin to turn the clock back on global warming.
In the longer-term, on a broader canvas, perhaps this means this American election will have a direct bearing decades hence on slowing glacial retreat in the Himalaya.