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Western Press Review: November Brings Election Season

  • Don Hill



Prague, 1 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- November 1996. Falling leaves. Elections. Falling governments? Perhaps one or two. Commentators in the Western press examine elections in Eastern Europe and the United States.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Election winners will need to show courage and honesty

In a commentary today Karl Grobe writes: "The call for democratic elections has been heeded to some extent (in Eastern Europe). This weekend, for instance, Serbs, Romanians and Bulgarians are going to the polls. In two of these three countries the signs are that post-communist parties are heading for heavy defeats. Serbia is a special case (with) the break-up of Yugoslavia, war, ethnic cleansing and, last but not least, internationalization of the conflict."

Grobe comments: "In Bulgaria and Romania, in contrast, there are alternatives to the ruling post-communist party, and they stand a good chance of winning. The candidate of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) will in all probability become Bulgaria's new president on Sunday."

He says: "In Romania the sitting president can be sure not to win in the first round of voting, and the run-off could mean the end of Ion Iliescu's presidency. More importantly, Romanians are electing a new parliament, and no one is banking on a no-change situation there."

In all these situations, the commentator says: "Changing majorities can only be a starting-point. Conditions can only be improved by grassroots democracy, comprehensive reforms, hard work, sweat and tears. The election winners will need to show courage and honesty."

LONDON GUARDIAN: The opposition has a chance of winning some power in Romania

Julian Borgar comments today: "Romania -- unlike miost of its neighbors -- has yet to make a radical break with the past by giving liberals and market reformers a chance to govern. That may change on Sunday, when the liberal and social democrat opposition has a chance of winning at least a share in power. But the communist PDSR has a solid base of support. In the presidential race, Ion Iliescu -- a former regional Communist Party leader who has run the country since 1989 -- still leads his nearest rival, Emil Constantinescu, a university professor."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Bulgaria has a messy, post-communist reality

Writing yesterday from Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, Tracy Wilkinson said: "Throughout the Cold War, Bulgaria was the Soviet Union's most loyal ally in all of Europe. Despite Bulgaria's sensitive location, bordering on two NATO countries and a sea, no Soviet occupation troops were ever necessary. Unlike Poland or Hungary, Bulgaria was faithful to Moscow without force. There was no Prague Spring, no organized dissident movement."

She wrote: "Bulgaria was also responsible for spreading communism during the 1980s by supplying weapons, money and advice to leftist governments and guerrilla movements in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Africa, according to documents of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Wilkinson went on: "Today, the shady goings-on of Bulgaria's cloak-and-dagger history have evolved into a messy post-communist reality plagued by corruption, rising street crime and the proliferation of extortion rackets said to have political connections. Yet the country is nominally democratic, with free elections and public debate."

AFTENPOSTEN: Anti-communists make a comeback

Peter Beck commented this week in the Norwegian newspaper: "New trend: anti-communists make a comeback in Eastern Europe -- we saw it in Lithuania; it can happen in Romania; it was already demonstrated in Bulgaria. Former communists, often carrying Social Democratic banners, are on the way out in Eastern Europe, after they'd regained power in the years after the Iron Curtan (rose), not least because the new, democratic forces were not experienced enough to handle their countries' economic woes."

POLITIKEN: The American trade union movement refuses to be buried

On the U.S. presidential elections, Bent Albrechtsen comments today in the Danish newspaper: "The American trade union movement, the biggest loser in the conservative victory at the congressional elections two years ago, has been declared dead but refuses to lie down and wait to be buried. (John) Sweeny, the leader of (the U.S. trade union federation) AFL-CIO and himself the son of an immigrant bus driver, calls his supporters throughout America 'brothers and sisters' and has spent $35 million to procure advertising for incumbent President Bill Clinton."

Albrechtsen says: "All American politicians try to appeal to various lobbies and in this way, the AFL-CIO can be compared with other interest groups such as the Jewish community, the Blacks or the Christian Right. But with the (presidential) election outcome seeming certain, the questions remain about the 435 seats in the House of Representatives."

LONDON TIMES: Clinton will fare better with a Republican-controlled Congress

The paper declares today in an editorial that citizens of the United States, if they insist next Tuesday -- as seems likely -- on reelecting Democrat Bill Clinton as president, would do well to balance him with a Republican-controlled Congress. Says The Times: "Americans seem set to give Bill Clinton a second term." The paper says: "The matter of real tension concerns the control of Congress. It is possible that a Clinton landslide might deliver Capitol Hill to the Democratic Party."

The editorial says: "If the President really wants more progress towards a balanced budget, tax reform, and innovation in social policy, he is more likely to get it through bargaining with Republicans -- exploiting the veto weapon -- than through negotiations with a congressional caucus nominally of his own creed that has little interest in this agenda."

The British newspaper concludes: "The return of a Republican Congress (would) oblige him to stick to the formula that has proved so popular on the campaign trail."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: Dole never developed a persona or program

Columnist Marianne Means comments today: "Why is President Clinton headed for re-election next week? The basic answer is no secret. Of the two principal candidates, Clinton is the better campaigner, with the better message." She writes: "Bob Dole never developed a forceful persona or a credible program. At the age of 73, he sounded like a ghost from the past rather than a go-getter for the future."

And concludes: "A campaign is not only a contest between ideas and dreams but also between the manner in which two candidates project themselves to the voters. Clinton, all fuzzy and warm smiles, understood this. But Dole, chilly and buttoned-down, did not."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton abandoned the people of China and Tibet

In the paper today, columnist A. M. Rosenthal writes: "America at election time: two Chamberlains and not a Churchill in sight. On Sept. 29, 1938, in Munich, Neville Chamberlain abandoned the 14 million people of Czechoslovakia to the German Nazis. It took the lives of tens of millions of Europeans and Americans to pay for that appeasement -- and the leadership of Winston Churchill, alone at first, then with Franklin D. Roosevelt.

More than a half-century later, in Washington on May 28, 1993, President Clinton abandoned the people of China and Tibet, 1.2 million souls, to communist mercy, in direct betrayal of his own official promise to do America's peaceful best to ease the bitterness of their oppression. Bob Dole does not attempt Churchill's role. It probably never crossed his mind. Dole, as Senate majority leader and still, has supported Clinton's major appeasement step of surrendering any economic pressure for human rights in China."
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