(AFP) – Feb 5, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — From the Indonesian city where Barack Obama spent part of his childhood to Hong Kong's bars and a Dublin pub, US Democrats abroad grabbed their first chance to vote in "Super Tuesday" primaries.
Voting for expat Democrats is taking place across the world until February 12, as well as online, with a total of 11 votes at stake for the Democratic Party convention that will eventually choose its candidate.
The venues are about as far removed from formal political institutions as possible, from pubs and cafes to bookshops and doughnut stores.
In Jakarta, where Obama spent part of his youth living and going to school in Menteng, a suburb of decaying colonial grandeur, Democrats handed him a win over Hillary Clinton in the first result announced, party officials said.
Seventy-five percent of nearly 100 votes cast by expatriate Americans just past midnight (1700 GMT Monday) went to Obama and 25 percent went to Clinton, Democrats Abroad officials here said.
Robert Lamont, a 53-year-old USAID worker in Jakarta, said he chose Obama for his combination of charisma and conciliatory foreign policy approach.
"That means he has more sensitivity to the wider world than someone who has lived in the US her whole life," he told AFP, comparing Obama to Clinton.
It is the first time Democrats living overseas had the chance to vote in person for their own delegates. The Republican Party does not elect convention delegates from abroad.
In Bangkok, hundreds of people went to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand to cast their ballots.
Phil Robertson, chairman of Democrats Abroad Thailand, expected thousands of Americans to vote at polling stations in the capital.
In neighbouring Cambodia, a polling station in Phnom Penh's aptly-named USA Donuts was set up ahead of voting on Saturday.
"People are seeing that they can actually vote and their votes will carry," said Wayne Weightman, chairman of Democrats Abroad in Cambodia. "As expats, we're so close to the effects of our foreign policy ... but some people have been feeling disenfranchised."
The presidential race has gripped the public imagination in close US ally Japan.
A Japanese translation of Obama's 1995 memoir "Dreams from My Father," in which the future senator wrote of his long search to connect with his Kenyan father and heritage, has spent time on the bestseller lists.
There was strong participation in Europe, as well.
In Paris, Behnaz Mahdavi, 48, casting her ballot at the American Church on the left bank of the River Seine, said she had faced "the hardest" decision.
"I've been thinking for weeks and the more I think about it the more I want both of them. So I don't know -- I voted for one of them but I'm hoping to get both of them together."
"Hillary's going to be president," burst out Elaina Mariarty. "I'll do everything I can to make sure Hillary gets in office. I wanna see her kick (front-runner Republican presidential hopeful and Arizona Senator John) McCain's ass!"
Britain is home to 250,000 Americans of all ages, and Democratic organisers reported a "frenzy" of interest in the nomination race because it was too close to call and could see the first female or African-American president.
"We're seeing a reflection here of what we're seeing in the States," said Daniel Rivkin, spokesman for Democrats Abroad UK. "There has been a lot of enthusiasm. We're expecting thousands."
One of Dublin's most famous pubs, O'Neills, was the venue for Irish-based Democrats seeking to play their part.
Democrats gathered around beer and pizza in a Berlin cafe to participate. Liesel Tarqueni, a 30-year-old graduate student from Oregon, said she backed Obama.
"I trust him... He's not part of the corruption of Washington DC," she said.
More than 100 people cast ballots in the first two hours of voting at an Anglican-Episcopalian church in central Rome, volunteer Karen Georgi said.
"I could have voted on-line much more easily but I thought I'd come along and be a part of all this," said Frank Cappiello, a 30-year-old teacher's assistant from Pennsylvania.
"Super Tuesday" states account for more than half the Democratic delegates and almost half of Republican delegates for their party conventions later this year, which formally nominate candidates for November's presidential vote.
McCain enjoys a commanding lead over his rivals in the battle for the Republican nomination while a clutch of new polls show the Democratic race a neck-and-neck struggle between Clinton and Obama.
In Mexico City, where voting was also being held, Ralson Darlington of Democrats Abroad said "this is the most interesting and the most important election in ages."
"This is the first election in ages where it's not an incumbent president or vice president who is running, so it's wide open," he said.
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