The world is scrutinizing the campaigns leading up to the November 4 US election with unprecedented interest.
As the world watches the global economic crisis unfold alongside two US-led wars and tense American relations with Russia, North Korea, and Iran, expats in Vietnam are waiting anxiously to see whether the next US president will be Democrat candidate Barack Obama or Republican John McCain.
“I haven’t seen this kind of excitement about a US election in a long time. It is the biggest in my lifetime,” said Democrats Abroad country chair Thinh Nguyen in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I think we are doing OK but there’s nothing sure – we have to work very hard till the very last day. It will be a very close election,” he said.
The Democrat campaigner said that voters in Vietnam were well informed about the campaign and issues back home.
“We have spent a lot of time reading all the articles about the election. We are leading in the battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado.”
Sesto Vecchi, managing lawyer of law firm Russin and Vecchi in Ho Chi Minh City and chair of Republicans Abroad Vietnam, said in an email Sunday that most American voters in Vietnam, including Republicans, had already voted.
“Therefore, campaigning, electoral surprises, and the like will have almost no impact among voters in Vietnam,” he said.
But Nguyen said some Democrats Abroad members had yet to vote, adding that the group was having an event this week to make sure they send in their absentee ballots.
“Democrats Abroad Vietnam is definitely making an impact, also lobbying our friends and relatives back in the states,” he said.
“I sent an article in Vietnamese [aimed at convincing Vietnamese Americans to vote for Obama] to the BBC and they posted it on their website and broadcast the interview [with me about our campaign in Vietnam] on the radio in Vietnamese.”
Vecchi said Republicans Abroad had made an important impact.
“There’s some collateral impact – people talking about the candidates with Americans, foreigners and Vietnamese… It has been a very open public debate with an insufferable amount of overseas coverage in the last year.”
He said in a phone interview Wednesday there was a “certain amount of remoteness” for voters here making them less involved with the campaign and issues than people in the US.
Voters here had not been in touch with the US financial crisis like their counterparts at home, Vecchi said.
“The impact is going to be on how the crisis will impact on their businesses here,” he said adding he didn’t see the “totally different philosophies” of the candidates having a “very direct impact in the short term” in Vietnam.
The Republican campaigner said he was hopeful despite McCain lagging in the opinion polls. “I do recall the election where Reagan beat Carter there was a larger gap but it didn’t seem to matter.”
He said the negative publicity about McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, was mostly noise.
“I think she is an asset, not anything that weakens the ticket. She has political strengths that are beneficial for her party.”
He also said that McCain had made his mark with a “history of working not on party lines but on practical lines.”
Nguyen said the election would impact US citizens in Vietnam and everyone outside the US for three main reasons.
“The last few years, US world relations have not gone so well – that will improve with the Democrats. Obama is better at handling the economy – making a better chance at economic recovery worldwide. And he has different views on war…”
Democrats Abroad supported an event last week and raised about US$15,000 for the campaign and on November 5 they will meet at a pub to watch the vote count, Nguyen said.
He said he expected about 40 or 50 members to come.
“Republicans Abroad in Vietnam held a fund-raising breakfast to watch the last debate,” Vecchi said.
He would not disclose how much money they raised but said “It was a pretty good sum.”
“In the end, and whatever the outcome, I hope that Americans will put behind them the very long and often testy campaign, and work toward dealing with the issues that the country faces,” Vecchi said.