Barack Obama‘s reelection to the United States presidency, after a close contest which raised questions about registration, voting procedures and campaign finance, will be a huge relief to his supporters, to the Democratic Party, and no doubt to a world which must have wondered what American foreign policy would have looked like had the conservative challenger Mitt Romney won. Final figures are still awaited, but the electoral college votes Mr. Obama got for winning the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio put the result beyond doubt. The entire election season, with a third of the Senate and the whole House of Representatives at stake, has been the most expensive in history. According to analyses of Federal Election Commission data by the New York Times, the candidates, their Super PACs and outside supporters, spent more than $6 billion combined, some $700 million more than the previous highest. The presidential poll alone accounted for $2 billion. The high spending results from the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, which prohibits government from restricting political contributions by private corporations and bodies like trade unions. Such donors do not have to reveal their funding sources. Big business put in most of the Citizens United money, giving nearly $600 million to Republican causes, but the Obama team raised $166 million more than its opponents, and no less than 34 per cent of the money was in donations of $200 or less.

Mr. Obama’s win comes after a gruelling first term in which he had to address the domestic economic crash. He withdrew troops from Iraq but failed to close the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison camp. He has also had to face the consequences of enforced regime change in Libya, including angry resistance from Russia and China to United Nations intervention in Syria. Those issues still stand, as do climate change, terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and multiple crises in West Asia stemming from the nuclear standoff with Iran and Israel’s refusal to end its illegal occupation of Palestine. The President may have won popular endorsement for his economic plans, but, at the time of writing, with the Republicans leading the House of Representatives by 232 seats to 191, the 52-45 Democratic majority in the Senate (there is one Independent and two others are undecided), will count for little unless the White House can make deals with Republican lawmakers. Right after his swearing-in early in 2013, the President’s skills will be tested by the pressing need to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and the deep cuts in public expenditure it could generate. With the economy still in a fragile position, the administration cannot afford to adopt an abrasive attitude towards Congress.

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