While there seemed to be a global sigh of relief at Barack
Obama's re-election as United States President, University of
Otago political experts have questioned whether it will bring
any meaningful change to the country, or the rest of the
The result of the US presidential election was discussed by
University of Otago politics lecturers Prof Robert Patman and
Prof Jim Flynn, and National Centre for Peace and Conflict
Studies director Prof Kevin Clements and deputy director
Associate Prof Richard Jackson before an audience of about
100 during the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
public forum at the University of Otago on Thursday.
Prof Jackson said Mr Obama's re-election had generated relief
and optimism around the globe, but he questioned whether the
president could make the changes he had promised.
He said there were issues surrounding the environment, the
economy, the levels of inequality, the prison population,
foreign wars, the arms trade, and the conflict in Iraq and
Afghanistan which the president would be looking to change.
But there had been promises before, such as closing
Guantanamo Bay prison, which he had not been able to make
happen, Prof Jackson said.
"Even if he wanted to make changes in a radical way, the
system won't let him do it.
"I think the American system will carry on as usual.
"It's a bit like a super tanker. Once it's on its way, it's
very difficult to change its direction."
Prof Patman said Mr Obama had been "frustrated" by domestic
and international political constraints since he took office
He believed two issues Mr Obama would focus on this term
would be comprehensive immigration reform (given much of his
vote came from women and minority groups) and climate change,
as a result of the hottest summer on record and the recent
The question was: "Will Obama's soaring oratory from
yesterday [election day] be able to be transferred into
action tomorrow", Prof Clements said.
Despite facing urgent economic challenges, a looming fiscal
showdown and a still-divided Congress able to block Mr
Obama's every move, Prof Clements believed it could, because
he did not have to worry about winning another term in
"He has nothing to lose this time around."
Prof Flynn agreed Mr Obama was more free to do what he wanted
in his second term. But he believed the president still had
to do "what it takes" to help the Democrats win the next
Prof Patman said there was no doubt New Zealand was
influenced by politics in the US.
"We only have to think back to the Bush administration to see
how America could have such a negative impact on us."