JAKARTA (Reuters) - The 2008 U.S. presidential election is being watched closely by millions around the world but few are more fired up than Indonesians, who can lay claim to Democratic hopeful Barack Obama as nearly one of their own.
In the capital Jakarta where Obama, 46, spent part of his childhood, U.S. expatriates and Indonesians crowded around television sets on Wednesday to watch the results of nominating contests across 24 states thousands of miles away pouring in.
At the end of the biggest day of U.S. presidential voting before the November election, Obama won 12 states to Clinton’s eight in a hard-fought duel for the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, John McCain won nine states but failed to knock out rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
“I think it’s exciting being in Indonesia at this time. A lot of Indonesians are fired up about Obama,” said Barry Dols, 41, an Obama supporter and teacher based in Jakarta from New Jersey.
“They think he knows the region.”
The senator from Illinois spent part of his childhood in Indonesia after his American mother, Ann Dunham, married Muslim Indonesian Lolo Soetoro following the end of her marriage to Obama’s Kenyan father.
Soetoro brought his new family to Jakarta in 1967 when Obama was six. Four years later Obama left Jakarta to live with grandparents in Hawaii.
“I prefer Obama because he is from a minority. So far, there is no leader coming from a minority,” said Samuel Moeloek, 28, a management graduate at Parahiyangan University in the West Java city of Bandung.
In Asia, few events were organized for locals interested in watching the outcome of “Super Tuesday” live, since the final results came in the middle of the working day.
Americans living overseas could vote at special polling booths set up in selected areas of their countries, or they cast ballots online — for the first time ever.
An estimated 6 million expatriates are eligible to vote. Democrats abroad can vote online through Feb 12 and 22 delegates representing them will go to the August convention in Denver.
“If this super Tuesday does not generate a clear leader, then going into the convention without a nominee ...That’s hardly ever happened,” said Lisa Lumbao, a member of Democrat party in Manila. “So if that happens, then our votes, our 22 delegates ...could make a difference. We’re like the 51st state.”
Many expatriates who had gathered at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Jakarta — decked out with red, white and blue curtains — hoped the eventual president, whether Democrat or Republican. would improve their nation’s image in the region and beyond.
“I think the president has to be incredibly internationally aware and bring global stability and improve relations and the image of the U.S.,” said Richard Mau, a hotel marketing executive based in Jakarta, who is backing Obama.
“He needs think about how the U.S. is perceived. The U.S. is not perceived as well as it could be in this region.”
Jakarta has close security ties with Washington, but many policies of President George W. Bush’s administration, particularly in the Middle East, are unpopular in the predominantly Muslim nation.
Ari Bassin, a Clinton supporter, said he was just happy with the strong interest in the election.
“In a country where apathy runs so deep in politics, it’s heartening to see this kind of passion,” Bassin said.
“You have a lot of first-time voters, especially minority voters, and that can change the face of politics in the U.S.”
Additional reporting by Sugita Katyal and Mita Valina Liem in Jakarta and Manny Mogato in Manila; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing By Katie Nguyen and Bill Tarrant