On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 the United States decided its fate, and many believe the fate of the world, while the rest of the world watched helplessly on. It has definitely been interesting watching the United States election unfold as a US citizen living in Baku. Every taxi ride included the inevitable questions about Donald Trump and the US election. The Friday before the election, an expat friend of mine in Baku told me to be grateful that as an American I at least had a say in the outcome. She, and probably many other people across the globe, would have loved to cast their votes in an election that many felt was as important to their lives as it was to the lives of Americans.
Many in Baku also clearly felt the importance of this US election, or were at least captivated by the drama of the scandal-filled 2016 presidential campaign season. Over 800 people attended the early morning election result viewing event hosted by the United States Embassy in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baku. The event started at 6 am on Wednesday November 9th (the evening of Tuesday November 8th in the United States) when the first election results would start coming. Event attendees included diplomats, professors and students of various local universities, and local politicians and activists, among others. Embassy employees said that when the doors opened at 6 am, there was already a line of at least 50 people waiting outside.
By 8:30 am the event was packed. Attendees circulated between three viewing screens, one with a live updated website showing the projected Electoral College vote counts from each state, one showing live coverage from the United States conservative leaning news channel Fox News, and the last showing coverage from liberal leaning CNN. The embassy distributed flyers in Azeri and English explaining US democracy, the branches of government, US political parties, the US election process, and the Electoral College system. Attendees could cast a vote for their US presidential candidate pick in mock voting booth and receive an “I Voted” sticker similar to ones received by voters across the United States on Election Day.
United States Embassy employees passed through the crowd answering questions from guests and students. Because of a strict United States law called the Hatch Act that limits the political activities of government employees including employees of the US State Department and prevents them from using their positions to promote a certain political agenda, US Embassy employees were not permitted to discuss their political preferences during the event. They could only talk about the election process itself. When it started to become increasingly clear that Donald Trump, instead of the widely favored Hillary Clinton, would become the next President of the United States, and the room which had substantially cleared of other foreign diplomats and local guests became quite hushed.
Unsurprisingly the votes from the event´s mock election echoed the predictions of political pundits and the popular vote of the United States with Hillary Clinton (101 votes) winning over Trump (63 votes). Independent Candidate Gary Johnson won 3 votes in the mock election.
When prompted to respond to the election results, the US Embassy in Baku stated,
“The U.S. Government doesn’t take a position on the desirability of a particular candidate’s election. In our democratic system, the American people are responsible for deciding who the next President will be. We look forward to working with the President elect and the transition team to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, as the State Department has done with each new President for well over 200 years.”
In an attempt to clear my head with a fresh perspective on the election results, I sought out a local Azerbaijani university student. Gulnar Gurbanova, a third year student in the Faculty of Law at Baku State University, offered to talk with me. Ms. Gurbanova is very lively and engaged young women who speaks perfectly fluent English. She offered a particularly interesting perspective because she had spent a year in the United States living with a host family and attending a local high school in Cherry District, Minnesota as part of the FLEX exchange program and understood some of the issues driving the campaign such as a depressed economy and job loss.
Ms. Gurbanova was particularly well-educated about the issues and platforms of each candidate because she had participated in a debate club at Baku State University that chose to take on the issues of the United States election. In the debate, she represented Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate, and another student played Hillary Clinton. Students extensively researched the platforms of each US candidate in preparation for the debate. Ms. Gurbanova said that although she respected Hillary, she would have voted for Trump, “I like her, she is a really smart woman and better educated than Donald Trump. She is really experienced. But, we need fresh air, someone who can come with new ideas for the future.”
She believed that Clinton´s downfall was her over reliance on feminism, “She used feminism in order to win, but she was using it fakely…Don´t use it [feminism] that much. It won´t work because there are a lot of men voters as well.”
When asked what she thought about the controversial things that Donald Trump has said about women, Muslims, immigrants and others, Ms. Gurbanova replied, “He´s not the person he shows…He will show his real self in the future.” Although she conceded he was not respectful, ultimately she believed that his plans could help develop the US economy which would have a positive impact across the world. “Their [United States´s] future is our future. Either candidate would have done a good job, but I liked the fresh air Trump could bring to the economy and to the world.”
Ms. Gurbanova had a refreshing trust for the institution of the United States political system, its constitution, and its ability to keep its leaders in check. In response to what she thinks about Trump´s idea about creating a Muslim registry, she replied “The constitution is basic, no one can change it. He is just saying that, he knows it is not possible. It is not allowed in the constitution.”
“Azerbaijan doesn’t care about who should be president,” Ms. Gulnara insisted, “as long as they do a good job and are a good person.”
President-Elect Donald Trump assumes office on January 20th, 2017.