Prague, 30 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers today focus on Cambodian strongman Hun Sen's apparent victory in Sunday's Cambodian parliamentary elections Sunday. Commentators say that despite a voter turnout of more than 90 percent voter, the government cheated voters by manipulating the election. Opinion writers also criticize the international community for being too eager to approve what they say has been a flawed ballot. The escalating violence in Kosovo also draws the attention of editorial writers who say the Kosovo Liberation Army's (UCK) defeats in the towns of Orohovac and Malisevo this week do not raise hopes for peace in the Balkans.
WASHINGTON POST: One election does not make a democracy
An editorial yesterday in the Washington Post said the international community should not take the election results as good news. It says the "grave intimidation" that has surrounded Hun Sen's rise to power and subsequent ouster of his co-prime minister and rival Prince Norodom Ranariddh, signals difficulty ahead in forming a stable government.
The Washington Post says: "Many observers predicted that each of the three main parties would win enough votes to force some kind of coalition government. That is where the hard part will begin. It has become a truism of efforts to create a democratic order that one election does not make a democracy, and nowhere is that more true than in Cambodia. Hun Sen is an autocrat who muscled his way to power and still controls the military; Prince Ranariddh has disappointed his followers with indecisiveness..."
The Washington Post concludes: "The post-election task for those who have taken an interest in Cambodia --the United States, the Association of South East Asian Nations and others-- is to keep pushing for democracy and dialogue, and not allow the rule of force to masquerade as the rule of law."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Elections were only as free and fair as prevailing conditions allowed
An opinion piece today by Peter Muench in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled "Elections Which Change Nothing" warns that "a fight is already erupting." Muench writes: "The way things now look, it would be fairly meaningless if the foreign observers now say voting was free and fair. On the one hand, the 500-strong body cannot be trusted to have a true overview of events in all 11,700 polling stations and on the other, elections can only be as free and fair as the prevailing conditions."
"These conditions, however, were decided in advance by Hun Sen when he placed party comrades at every junction of power and the media."
"If the UN observers declare that the elections have fulfilled the wishes of the international community, it implies that there is a greater sense of relief over the early results than over the running of the ballot. That's because if Hun Sen were shown to have lost, there would surely be a power struggle. But even the current scenario promises future crises."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: KLA will resort to their old guerrilla tactics
In another commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Muench discusses the volatile situation in Kosovo. He says that the Kosovo Liberation Army's (KLA) ouster from the small Kosovo town of Malisevo sends a message that Serbian forces should not be underestimated. Muench writes, "The first lesson of Malisevo are that the arrogant Serbian police and army forces can now effortlessly overrun the KLA's positions - any time and anywhere."
"Thus far, Belgrade has only occasionally exploited its strengths. But with the latest offensive the Yugoslav leadership has noticeably turned up the heat."
Muench concludes by warning that the KLA's defeat may signal more brutality against Kosovo's refugees. He says: "There is another lesson to be learnt here: that while the KLA's fighters may have quickly withdrawn in the face of Serbian superiority, they will now surely and swiftly resort to their old guerrilla tactics."
"The losers here are always the hapless civilians caught in the crossfire. They have been driven out of house and home, and have been killed. Nobody can help them once the war has come trampling over their homes."
THE TIMES: A double defeat represents the best hope for peace
The Times of London published an editorial today entitled "Crisis In Kosovo." The paper speculates that the international community is unlikely to intervene in the crisis until both sides fight through their differences.
The Times says: "This double defeat ought, by some diplomatic logic, to represent the best hope for peace in the province. Both sides should be ready to negotiate; the Kosovars, because the viability of the military option has been undermined by the KLA's defeats; Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, because his victories give him a position of strength from which to negotiate an end to a conflict which jeopardizes his hold on power. Yet Orahovac and Malisevo do not signal an end to the war. Efforts to provide a political path out of the quagmire have become no easier."
The Times says Kosovars can only watch and wait for outside help. The paper says: "Current attempts to find a resolution to the conflict in Kosovo are unlikely to succeed. Rather than disappear, the KLA will regroup in the hills. Mr. Milosevic, encouraged by his successes, will continue his repression. An authoritative Kosovar negotiator is only likely to emerge from further conflict. And only when such a figure emerges is the outside world likely to intervene."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Negotiations are the only solution
Analysis also is offered by Anna Husarska in today's Wall Street Journal Europe. She says the political disunity in Kosovo makes the UCK stronger. Husarska says the West's reaction to the recent Serbian crackdown has only resulted in "chest thumping" and "finger wagging." She says real change won't come through fighting, but rather, through negotiations by trusted representatives for both sides.
Husarska writes: "As it is unlikely that either the Serbs or the Kosovo Albanians can win a decisive military victory, or that one could be imposed by force from outside, the impetus must be placed on negotiations. Before these negotiations can start, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians must unite and delegate a person or a group that best represents their interests in talks with Belgrade."
She concludes: "This would offer the most reasonable chances for a modus vivendi that brings a halt to the escalating bloodshed. If they do not, Kosovo's conflict is likely to rage on for years to come."