Ekklesia

Senator Barack Obama has been elected president of the United States of America, the first African-American to hold the post. Celebrations have begun in the USA and across the world for what is seen as a moment of historic change.

The victory became clear at 11pm US time (4am GMT), after projected victories in California and Washington State on the West Coast. A record national electoral turnout was achieved.

US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION COMMENT

Jim Wallace, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, gives his thoughts on the US presidential election result: 

"It is of course wonderful that African-Americans are able to see one of their own as President and proof positive that America has moved on from its divided and racist past.

"Christians, though, will be watching with both expectation and a little trepidation the “change” that Barack Obama will bring. No-one would challenge his strength of conviction for supporting diversity, but of course it depends on the degree to which he means to pursue that, how it will effect the church. His less than clear views on homosexual and life issues are one area of concern.

"Nonetheless there have also been some positive comments by Mr Obama in support of families, which offer encouragement for the future. For example, in formally accepting his nomination as the Democrat candidate on 29th August, Mr Obama noted the importance of parents, stating that, “…we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.”

The Rev Jesse Jackson joined civil rights campaigners in celebrating the advent of president-elect Obama, who claimed victory in Chicago while rival Republican candidate Senator John McCain conceded defeat in Phoenix, Arizona.

Obama's win is likely to impact the perception of the US in the world positively, but while his win in terms of the Electoral College in America is decisive, in many areas of the country the popular vote remains evenly divided.

The junior senator, who is now due to be sworn in as president on 20th January 2009, will face massive challenges both domestically and internationally - ranging from the global economic crisis, to healthcare, to global warming, to the Middle East conflict.

Obama's win is seen as a milestone for black Americans, given the country's history of racial division. But supporters recognise that yet deeper change is still to be achieved.

The president-elect won 40 per cent of white voters and 97 per cent of African Americans, indicating that significant demographic differences still exist.

In Kenya, the family of Barack Obama there was joined in extravagant celebrations by local people. US assistance in the battle against HIV-AIDS in Africa is crucial to its relations on the continent.

Though the traditional religious right mobilised around the candidacy of John McCain, significant numbers of evangelical Christians supported Obama, constructing a 'values vote' around wider issues of poverty and the environment.

Observers say that religion was not the divisive issue in the election that some feared, though it is always a significant factor.

Senator John McCain made a generous speech of concession in Phoenix Arizona, wishing Mr Obama "godspeed' in his coming task of governing the nation.

But the loud boos that greeted the successful Democratic candidate's name indicated the depth of animosity and suspicion that he faces in sections of the American population.

Nonetheless, the overall mood in the USA seems to be one of poignancy and celebration, as the scale of Mr Obama's achievement begins to sink in.

President George W Bush has rung Mr Obama to congratulate him.

Meanwhile, in a powerful speech to his supporters in Chicago which has been beamed across the world, US president-elect Barack Obama has said that his victory at the polls "is not the change, but the opportunity to make that change."

Democratic Senator Obama, who has beaten Republican rival John McCain, mixed traditional laudatory remarks about American values and the genesis of the nation with an appeal to ordinary people to work together for a better country and world.

"This is our moment. This is our time", he declared, "to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."

The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his victory by defeating John McCain in a string of wins in key 'swing' states - Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.

A huge crowd in Grant Park in Chicago erupted in jubilation at the news of Obama’s victory. Some, including the Rev Jesse Jackson, wept.

Meanwhile, Mr McCain called to concede defeat and the end of his own 10-year quest for the White House. A short while later, speaking to supporters in Phoenix, McCain, a longtime senator from Arizona, promised his support to Obama and expressed his sympathy that Obama's grandmother had died on Monday 3 November 2008, just before she could see him win the presidency.

"I pledge to [Mr Obama] tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us in the many challenges that face us," McCain declared.