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Western Press Review: Commentators Analyze Russian Finances, Japanese Election And World Cup

Prague, 13 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's new loan arrangement with the International Monetary Fund, its perilous financial situation generally, and the leadership problems in Moscow, evoke press comment today. So do topics like the political uncertainty in Japan following parliamentary elections, and the surprise in the World Cup soccer final.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The talks got a boost after Yeltsin promised to carry our reforms

Of the Russia-IMF deal, an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe notes that the IMF's tentative agreement to provide Russia with more than $10 billion in emergency assistance was made under intense pressure, after President Boris Yeltsin appealed for support to U.S. President Bill Clinton and other world leaders.

The paper continues: "Officials in Washington and Russia said that a final accord would depend on Russia's parliament this week passing a package of reform measures to trim the budget, raise tax revenues and promote greater competition in the economy".

The article, by Matthew Brzezinski and Andrew Higgins, continues to quote an IMF official in Washington as saying the bulk of the IMF package will be composed of new loans, but will include early disbursement of $2. 67 billion tranches of an existing $9.2 billion facility which the Kremlin has with the IMF. It says the talks got a boost after Yeltsin telephoned Clinton and the leaders of France, Great Britain, Japan and Germany to appeal for assistance and promise that Russia would carry out a package of proposed reforms.

GUARDIAN: Mr Yeltsin's popularity is now at a new low

The British daily the Guardian takes up this same theme. James Meek comments that the IMF loan to shore up the ruble, which is under threat of a politically cataclysmic devaluation, is likely to provide no more than a temporary boost for the Russian leader now that so many of the figures and institutions which backed his electoral triumph in 1996 are turning against him.

Meek writes: "Russia is trying to bury two historic rulers. One, Nikolai Romanov, the country's last Tsar, will go quietly to the grave in St Petersburg this week. But the other, Boris Yeltsin, it's first president, will not enter the sleep of retirement without a great deal of noise".

The article continues: "Mr Yeltsin's popularity and perceived usefulness to the rich elite are now at a new low. His rule has been menaced before, but never so subtly or so broadly. Aides attack him openly as unable to cope. Once-loyal newspapers and television stations undermine him. Many of his powerful business allies -- the 'oligarchs' who control much of Russia's hard-currency earning industry -- encourage him not to run for a third term in 2000.

Another topic receiving attention in the press today is the defeat of Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's ruling Liberal Democrats in yesterday's upper house elections. Hashimoto has said he will resign in view of the humiliating showing.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Signs of weakness and indecision have wiped out the premier's achievements

In the Financial Times today, correspondents Paul Abrahams, Alexandra Harney and Gwen Robinson write that Japanese voters delivered a devastating indictment of Hashimoto's government.

The article says that what happened was less of an election than a reckoning for the LDP's failure to manage the economy. Japan's economy this year is set to contract for the second year running.

The article says that Hashimoto's continued prevarication, lately on the issue of tax cuts, has been blamed for the wild lurches in the yen and stock market in recent weeks. It says: "by yesterday such signs of weakness and indecision had, in the eyes of many voters, wiped out the premier's considerable achievements: his government's 'Big Bang" program of financial deregulation; his bold steps in foreign policy, including strengthening Japan's relations with China and Russia, and his even bolder expansion of Japan's defense cooperation with the U.S."

NEW YORK TIMES: The situation is much as it was five years ago

In the New York Times today, Sheryl Wudunn writes that "the resounding message of protest against the Liberal Democrats throws into question the ability of the nation's leaders to push through economic policy. The liberal democrats will now have to work more closely with the opposition parties to pass legislation, and this is likely to stall the process."

Wudunn says the election results now raise the possibility of calls for an election in parliament's lower house, where the LDP currently has a majority. She continues: "the upheaval comes at an odd time in the Japanese political world, when the country is neither the one-party state it used to be nor a Western-style system where parties go in and out of power. The Liberal Democrats traditionally ran the country with only token opposition, but they were evicted from power in 1993 after a poor election performance and a series of defections by members of parliament.

"At that time, many thought that old-style Japanese politics were gone forever, but a year later, the Liberal Democrats clawed their way back to power as part of a coalition. Then Hashimoto took over as prime minister in January 1996 and led the Liberal Democrats in a long slog in which they managed to regain majority control of the lower house of parliament, so that five years later the situation is much as it was before - but with much less sense of expectation that the political system can be a vehicle for far-reaching change any time soon."

NEW YORK TIMES: In Brazil there will be weeks of mourning; the French will be toasting their heroes

Another topic capturing press attention today is France's resounding win over Brazil last night in the World Cup soccer final. An editorial in today's New York Times says: "in Brazil, where soccer is almost a religion, and where the nation's identity is bound tightly to the fortunes of its national team, there will be weeks of mourning and months of bitter recrimination.

"In France - well, the French will be toasting their heroes for days to come, and might actually begin to work up some lasting Gallic passion for a sport that has always competed for public affection with the Tour de France and even rugby."

The game, watched by an estimated 2,000 million people, brought France its first World Cup, and denied Brazil its fifth. Croatia finished third in the contest.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The sport's bureaucrats are grappling with problems

The Financial Times looks forward with trepidation to the next World Cup in 2002, which will be jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. In an article, Patrick Harverson says that "ever since FIFA, world football's governing body, made the bizarre decision in 1996 to appoint co-hosts in 2002, the sport's bureaucrats have been grappling with the problems of organizing the world's biggest sporting event in two countries with a history of enmity and mutual suspicion -- not to mention separate languages, currencies, time zones and cultures."