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Western Press Review: As Fall Leaves Drop, Voters Flock to Polls

  • Don Hill



Prague, 4 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Commentator Julian Berger writes from Belgrade today in "The London Guardian ": "Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria went to the polls yesterday to pass judgment on regimes run by some of Europe's most tenacious former communists."

In commentary and analysis, Berger and other Western writers examine these elections and Tuesday's U.S. presidential and congressional elections.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Final results will sputter out during the week

In the commentary, Berger continues: "In Yugoslavia, the Socialist Party, run by the most absolute ruler in the Balkans, President Slobodan Milosevic, seemed likely to defeat a fragmented alliance of liberals and nationalists." Berger writes: "But Romania's president, Ion Iliescu, another former communist who has ruled continuously for the past seven years was under more pressure." And, the writer says: "In Bulgaria, a liberal reformer, Peter Stoyanov, was almost certain to win the presidency."

He says: "Final results from the three elections are due to sputter out over the course of the week, but by today it should be clear how much headway the reforming forces have made."

WASHINGTON POST: Iliescu's party lost by a wide margin

Christine Spolar writes in an analysis today: "If President Ion Iliescu were looking for a portent of how he and his party (fared in yesterday's) presidential and parliamentary elections, he might consider the way the ball bounced when former tennis champion Ilie Nastase ran for mayor of this restless capital last summer. By his star quality alone, Nastase, a candidate for Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy, seemed a sure bet."

She says: "But Bucharest voters rejected Nastase for a lawyer who had fought for trade union rights. And, throughout Romania, when the counting in the municipal elections was over, Iliescu's party lost by a wide margin."

LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Iliescu cannot impersonate a democratic leader

Foreign affairs columnist John Simpson commented yesterday: "Ion Iliescu of Romania must be just about the most presidential looking president anywhere: sleek, grey-haired, charming. His television apearances are models of the kind, President Iliescu knows how to soothe the viewers."

Simpson writes: "But even Iliescu's impressive powers may not be enough for him to impersonate a successful democratic leader," and, adds Simpson: "The story is a familiar one in Eastern Europe, (where average income is down), corruption is widespread, (and industrial restructuring) has scarcely begun."

WASHINGTON POST: The Clinton administration treats Milosevic as a key player

John Pomfret writes today in a news analysis: "The people of Yugoslavia voted (yesterday) in their first election since the Dayton peace accord silenced guns in the Balkans last year." He says: "The vote marks a watershed in Milosevic's campaign to resurrect his reputation. Pilloried as the 'butcher of the Balkans' by U.S. officials in 1992, the Serbian president is now treated as a key player by the Clinton administration."

Pomfret contends: "The election is considered important for Milosevic because if his coalition wins a two-thirds majority in the lower house, the Serbian president will be in a strong position to rewrite Yugoslavia's constitution and grant more power to the central government at the expense of its two constituent republics. This would allow Milosevic to run next year for president or prime minister of Yugoslavia. (He already has) served two terms as president of Serbia, the constitutional limit."

NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic increasingly governs in tandem with his wife

Chris Hedges writes in a news analysis today: "Milosevic was not running for office (yesterday) and his second and final term as Serbian president expires at the end of 1997. But, Western diplomats say, if (the coaliton led by his Socialist Party of Serbia) retains control of the Parliament's two houses, his supporters could make constitutional changes allowing him to transfer his power to the post of federal president of Yugoslavia. Or, he could be appointed federal prime minister by the federal president and retain power through that office, these diplomats say."

Hedges says: "The election campaign has been a bizarre mixture of extravagant charges and character assassinations carried out mostly by Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, who heads a party allied with the Socialists, and by Danica Draskovic, the wife of one of the five main opposition leaders, Vuk Draskovic." The analysis says: "Milosevic, who increasingly governs Yugoslavia in tandem with his wife, much as Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu did in Romania, appears to be also using these elections to replace his own Socialist Party with his wife's party."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: No Democrat has won a second term in the post-war era

German commentator Josef Joffe in Munich examines the U.S. elections, writing in today's edition: "In the post-war era no Democrat has ever pulled off what William Jefferson Clinton is going to (tomorrow) -- win a second term of office in the White House."

Joffe writes: "Bill Clinton of all people is about to end the Democrats' series of misfortunes? He is certainly no historic or exemplary figure like Franklin D. Roosevelt. People call him 'Slick Willy,' slippery as an eel, canny and crafty. The character issue has stuck to Clinton ever since the beginning of his political career 20 years ago in Arkansas. It is a never-ending story of shady deals, preferential treatment and nest-feathering, right up to the recent story of the two Indonesian tycoons who slipped Clinton and the Democrats a million dollars on the quiet. And yet Republican Bob Dole, a war hero with scarcely a blemish on his reputation, doesn't have a chance."

Says the commentary: "The simple explanation? Clinton is the first president since 1945 to have entered the race without the millstones of war and recession round his neck."

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton practiced the kind of fundraising he has deplored

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "For four years President Clinton has presented himself as an advocate of campaign finance reform without having done anything of consequence to achieve it. Instead, he has been a leading practitioner of precisely the kind of behavior -- the wide-open, grab-it-anywhere-you-can fund-raising -- that, in speeches on the subject, he has then deplored."

The Post says: "Now, embarrassed by revelations of the extent to which he has participated in shouldering aside the law, he says again that he wants to change it. Next year, he promises, after the election, after what will likely be his own last campaign for public office."

And concludes: "People who have money want to spend it to influence both the election results and the policies to which those results will lead. To tell them they can't is to put a plump asterisk after the First Amendment (guarantee of freedom of speech). To tell them they can, with impunity, is to invite the buying of elections. The system now has swung too far in the second direction. If the shame of that helps to move it back to more comfortable middle ground, good for shame."
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