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Western Press Review: Elections Around The World

Prague, 21 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary turns its attention to elections and referenda, their preludes, and their aftermaths around the world -- from Japan to Nicaragua, the United States and the Kursk region of Russia.


FINANCIAL TIMES: Conservatism is bad for business in Eastern Europe

The votes still are being counted after parliamentary elections Sunday in Lithuania. Early returns suggest a resurgence of the nationalist Homeland Union and its conservative allies, who were ousted four years ago following dismal economic performance. Matthew Kaminski comments today in the British newspaper: "Conservatives are considered good for business everywhere except, it seems, in Eastern Europe. If, as expected, center-right parties make a strong showing in Lithuania, investors may have reason to be nervous."

"The conservative Homeland Union party left open a possible devaluation of the litas, which has been pegged to the dollar by a currency board. A second wave of privatizations might also be put in doubt. But whatever coalition government emerges, Lithuania will not be back at square one. Strict agreements with international lenders lock in any successor government to the path of reform," Kaminski writes.


THE LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Controversial referendum postponed

In Belarus, the issue is an attempt by President Alexander Lukashenko to impose a referendum designed to multiply the powers of the presidency. Nanette van der Lam writes from Minsk in an analysis: "The president of Belarus has agreed to postpone a controversial referendum to extend his vast powers. He is trying to defuse a political crisis that has thrown the former Soviet republic into turmoil."

"The issue at stake is a new constitution which would not only give the head of state the right to choose most key officials in the country, but would also allow Mr. Lukashenko to appoint deputies of an upper chamber which would give presidential decrees the force of law," Van der Lam writes.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Belarussian people have to choose

Today's editorial says: "Belarus, with its 10 million inhabitants has to choose in the referendum which it prefers, the president, who wants to enlarge his already strong authority and prolong his rule until the year 2000. Or the parliament, which wants to renounce the presidency. The decision threatens to split the country." The newspaper adds: "Belarus, which is shaken by crises, needs political flexibility, economic reforms and an opening to the West. In this regard, Lukaschenko is leading the country back into the Soviet era."

NEW YORK TIMES: Thousands protest in Minsk

Michael R. Gordon said yesterday in a news analysis from Minsk: "With this former Soviet republic teetering on the brink of crisis, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets Saturday to protest President Alexander Lukashenko's plan to gain near absolute power."

"Five years after it (re)gained its independence during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, this country appears to be going back in time. Privatization has come to a screeching halt. The bank accounts of independent newspapers have been frozen. To the distress of the West, Belarus has yet to return to Russia 18 nuclear missiles left over from the Soviet Union. Belarus is even festooned with the symbols of the old Communist order. The nationalist symbol of Belarus -- a knight astride a charger -- has been stripped from the Parliament building, leaving the Soviet hammer and sickle on display," Gordon wrote.


THE NEW YORK TIMES: Local Albanian elections went smoothly

Observers turned particular scrutiny on Albania's local elections yesterday. International critics denounced the country's conduct of parliamentary elections last May. Jane Perlez writes in an analysis from the capital Tirana: "Voting in local Albanian elections that was watched with unusual concern by international observers appeared to go relatively smoothly (yesterday), though the government took a number of actions before the elections that Western diplomats said appeared designed to undermine voter confidence."

"Full results from (yesterday's) elections were not expected until (today) and the main opposition parties remained concerned that there would be some fraud in counting the votes," she says.


An analysis in today's German newspaper says: "Since the controversial parliamentary elections on May 26, the most important opposition parties in Albania are accusing the Democratic Party of President Sali Berisha of massively manipulating the elections. International observers also are denouncing irregularities and manipulations." The article continues: "The local elections yesterday are significant for democratic development in Albania. President Berisha and his party want to demonstrate by the conduct of regular local elections that there was nothing wrong with the controversial parliamentary elections either. A similar aim applies for the opposition, which wants to show by a good result that in May it was cheated out of many votes."

The United States

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton will discuss NATO membership

Craig R. Whitney writes: "NATO diplomats said yesterday that President Clinton would use a campaign speech in Detroit to reassure Central European countries anxious to join the alliance that they will soon be welcome. Officials in Washington said that Clinton did not plan to name any countries specifically in the speech, since neither he nor other NATO leaders will name the countries until a summit meeting of the alliance early next summer."

"It is no secret in Europe that there is strong backing in the United States for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, which have all repeatedly expressed a strong desire to join," Whitney says.


WASHINGTON POST: Voters restore the country's most conservative party

From Tokyo, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan write: "With yawning indifference, Japanese voters restored the country's most conservative party to a near-majority in the national parliament yesterday, choosing to take a step back toward the political order they rejected three years ago."

"The victory was far from inspiring. Voter turnout was considerably lower than at any time since World War II, and an apathetic and disgusted electorate sent a muddled message. They gave the Liberal Democrats more power, but stopped short of restoring absolute rule to a party that had grown corrupt and arrogant during its long reign," they write.


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Voters choose between two extremes

From Managua, Nicaragua, today Juanita Darling writes: "Nicaraguans frustrated by unemployment and poverty under a president dedicated to national reconciliation waited in long lines (yesterday) to choose a successor in a contest between two extremes -- a right-wing populist and the former ruler who led this country's Marxist revolution during the 1970s and '80s. Former President Daniel Ortega and his opponent, former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, have tried to present themselves as moderates." Darling says: "This election shows how polarized Nicaragua remains more than six years after Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front lost power to a government that promised to heal the wounds of a bitter civil war financed in part by the United States."

Kursk, Russia

FINANCIAL TIMES: Rutskoi attempts a comeback

And on Kursk, a Russian region, John Thornhill writes: "Mr. Aleksandr Rutskoi, Russia's mustachioed former vice president who led an armed uprising against President Boris Yetsin three years ago, yesterday attempted to return to the political mainstream by contesting the election for governor of the Kursk region. A victory for Mr. Rutskoi could encourage Mr. Aleksandr Lebed in his fight to rehabilitate himself in a similar way."