American expats gathered, along with many other Swiss residents, at US presidential election parties across Switzerland that ran well into Wednesday morning before learning of Barack Obama’s historic re-election.
Swiss residents — like those in the rest of Europe — woke up to Obama delivering an emotional acceptance speech carried by TV networks around the world after results of the Democrat’s victory against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
At parties in Geneva, Zurich and Lausanne people watched through the evening before the outcome of crucial battleground states was known and before the president declaimed in a speech that he did not under-estimate the challenge ahead.
“We’ve got more work to do,” Obama said, while adding a unifying call to the “American family” as he anticipated dealing with a Senate controlled by Democrats and a House of Representatives by Republicans.
At the Geneva Uptown theatre complex the speech was the crowning moment for Democrat supporters who stayed up all night to await the vote count.
"The reaction was jubilation for the people that were there and a sense of relief for me, personally," said Ammad Bahalim, vice-chairman of Democrats Abroad.
He estimated the crowd at its peak at 600, describing the atmosphere there as “young and energetic”.
Earlier in the evening, Bahalim spoke at another non-partisan party organized by the American International Club (AIC) of Geneva at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
“The US seems to be Ohio of the world — everyone’s waiting to see what will happen,” he told the crowd.
“The strength of our country is that we can come together,” Ed Flaherty, vice-chairman of Republicans Abroad Switzerland told the same group.
Flaherty acknowledged that Republicans are in a minority among American expats in Europe but “we’ll fight our corner”.
Early in the evening he told The Local he was “cautiously optimistic” Romney would win.
But Flaherty, a critic of the way the United Nations and its related international organizations work, predicted “status quo” for International Geneva with an Obama win.
A bald eagle flew back and forth over the ballroom floor at the AIC party, which also featured a jazz band and display of swing dancers as people watched the results trickle in on giant video screens.
A quintessential American symbol, the eagle, the mascot of the Geneva Servette hockey team, flew on command to a perch by an American flag before returning to its handler.
While the AIC party was billed as a non-partisan event it appeared that most Obama supporters headed to the party organized by Democrats Abroad.
“I think in Europe people have a harder time understanding Republicans, I don’t think it’s Swiss-specific,” Bahalim told The Local.
In America social issues contested by Republicans such as gay rights, marriage equality, abortion and climate change are “not a debate in Europe”, he said.
“The differences between the parties though, go beyond those hot-button issues.”
For a country of its size, Switzerland has a significant American expat population, estimated at around 30,000, and Democrats Abroad made a concerted effort to register as many of them as possible to vote, Bahalim said.
Ron Banks, vice executive director of American Citizens Abroad in Switzerland, said his non-partisan group is struggling to get attention from either of the parties for the interests of expats.
“Whatever party is in power it doesn’t seem to matter,” Banks told The Local.
The ACA has had long-standing beefs over issues such as double taxation faced by Americans living in Switzerland, as well as the increasing hurdles for them to do business in the country.
“If Obama wins I’m afraid that the unfriendly attitude toward business will continue.”
Interest in the election was also high in Zurich where several meetings were held, including one sponsored by the Swiss Socialist Party with Democrats Abroad.
The University of Zurich political science “dusk till dawn” meeting in Oerlikon attracted an overflow crowd.
“We are full, sorry,” the group posted on its Facebook page after the limit of 200 people was reached at its “US Election Night 2012” event.
The results were analyzed at special breakfasts run by the AIC in Geneva and in Zurich by the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has planned an “expert forum” on the election outcome for November 16th from 2 to 6.30pm at the Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue, Gheistrasse 37, Rüschlikon.