Americans, Indonesians Gather to Watch Culmination of Presidential Election
Twenty-five year old Gordon LaForge, an English teaching assistant in Banda Aceh, joined fellow members of the Indonesian American Fulbright program at the Grand Ballroom of the Kempinski Hotel in Jakarta to watch the results of the hotly contested US Presidential elections roll in on Wednesday morning.
The Colorado native, who voted for incumbent president Barack Obama from Indonesia by e-mail, was not disappointed when the outcome was announced at around 11:20 a.m. Jakarta time.
“Obama’s a good decision-maker. I like his world view and the place he’s coming from, especially with foreign policy,” LaForge said.
The event, which was hosted by the US Embassy in Jakarta, began at 8 a.m. and drew more than 700 Indonesians and American citizens who came and went throughout the morning, according to embassy officials.
At around 9 a.m., US Ambassador Scot Marciel took to the podium on a stage adorned with US flags flanking a large photo of the White House. Marciel welcomed the crowd, which at that point numbered around 300.
He said that the election was going to be tight.
“It looks like this election is very close so we don’t know at this point who’s going to win … Enthusiasm levels [in the US] are high. Millions and millions of people are voting,” he said.
The ambassador said that whichever candidate succeeded, the next four years were likely to be marked by increasing cooperation between Indonesia and the US.
“While I can’t speak on behalf of Governor [Mitt] Romney, support for building a good relationship with Indonesia is not controversial in the United States. There is strong support from both parties,” he said.
As the morning wore on, suspense began to rise in the Grand Ballroom, with guests gathering in front of large screens showing CNN’s election coverage as news of the results flowed in.
Further away, in the center of the venue, booths with information about the United States’ electoral process had been set up and were being browsed by Indonesian guests seeking to learn more about the US political system.
Among them was fifth-year Jakarta State University student Nisa, who studies social sciences and plans to visit the United States to study and travel in the future. Nisa told the Jakarta Globe that she had been rooting for Romney.
“He’s so charismatic,” she said.
In contrast, the majority of Indonesians in the crowd appeared to profess their support for Obama, with many citing the president’s childhood connection to the Indonesian capital.
“I hope Obama is the winner,” Fahmi Ramadhan, a visual communications design student at Paramadina University, told the Globe.
“I think Romney is OK, but Obama has a good relationship with Indonesia. Last year he visited Indonesia. That’s a good point for him.”
When CNN finally announced Obama as the winner, the room stood clapping while red, white and blue balloons cascaded from the ceiling above the podium.
Reacting to the announcement, Gracia Paramitha, who studies international relations at the University of Indonesia, expressed her excitement and said she was very supportive of Obama’s second term.
“The good thing is, there will be a more peaceful situation internationally. Obama has the capacity to control the constellation of international relations even with the democratic crisis in the Middle East,” she said.
“For Indonesia, bilaterally, the comprehensive partnership will be more productive. Personally, I respect that he has made double the amount of available scholarships [for Indonesian students]. This was very strategic. In that way Obama is very influential here.”
Paramitha was one of the students who benefited from a US government-funded education initiative, having studied global environment in Montana with support from the Study of the United States Institutes for Scholars program in 2010.
After Obama’s victory was announced, the crowd slowly began to disperse, with about 100 people remaining to watch as results continued to trickle in.
A number of American expatriates who had stayed behind commented that they were pleased to have been given the opportunity to watch the results with Indonesians as well as fellow Americans.
“It’s exciting to watch the results with a lot of expats and a lot of Indonesians,” said William Ryan, the director of a Jakarta-based non-profit organization, who has lived in Indonesia for 13 years.
His friend, from New Jersey but now based in Thailand, enjoyed the experience.
“It’s interesting to get a sense of what it means to Indonesians,” he said, declining to give his name.
Philip Roskamp, a press attache at the US Embassy, said that he sensed strong Indonesian interest in US elections.
“I don’t have any data to pin that on but when we talk to Indonesians about it, they’re very interested in who’s going to win and how it’s going to affect the trajectory of our relationship,” he said.