Prague, 20 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Today's presidential election in the giant southeast Asian state of Indonesia -- conducted by the country's People's Consultative Assembly, not by popular vote -- attracts some attention in the Western press today. Other subjects treated include Pakistan, Serbia, Belarus, Chechnya and Iraq.
FINANCIAL TIMES: The People's Consultative Assembly assumes a weighty responsibility
Britain's Financial Times says that "Indonesia's fate hangs in the balance" of the assembly's vote. The paper writes: "Today a motley group of 700 Indonesians make a choice of great importance not only to their 200 million compatriots but to the region beyond. In selecting a new president," the editorial adds, "the People's Consultative Assembly -- made up of the parliament, appointed regional representatives and the armed forces -- thus assumes a weighty responsibility."
The paper argues that "a sensible choice, which is acceptable to the people, would reinforce the spirit of democracy that was embraced with so much fervor by voters in June's general elections. [But] a decision based on factionalism, or worse still on corruption, would kill that spirit and risk plunging Indonesia into chaos."
The FT concludes: "Indonesia's assembly members -- including those in the military -- must recognize that, unless they give their country a president with a proper mandate, there would be no real hope of receiving [outside] aid, which Indonesia badly needs to put its economy back on track."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Indonesia's voters want change
The Los Angeles Times says that "the winner of [today's Indonesian] vote will face the enormous challenge of overhauling the country's crony system, curtailing the power of the military, reversing economic decline and dousing secessionist fires in outlying provinces." The paper calls last June's election "just a start," and notes that one of the main candidates, Megawati, "is politically inexperienced, [which] may cost her the support she needs from other parties to win the presidency."
The LAT's editorial goes on: "Indonesia's voters have clearly demonstrated at the ballot box -- and almost daily in the streets -- that they are fed up with the abuses of the ruling elite. They want change, a decisive break with the 32 years of autocracy represented by former President Suharto."
The paper calls such a transformation "a tall order for the next leader. Indonesia's economy," it notes, "is flat, the currency worth less than a third of what it was two years ago and millions have been plunged into poverty. Economically, the new government must see that more power and resources are given to the provinces. Unless the new government delivers on these and other expectations, Indonesia faces continuing unrest."
WASHINGTON POST: Elections are not enough to constitute a democracy
The aftermath of Pakistan's recent military coup remains a subject of considerable editorial interest. Under the title "The Savior Fantasy," the Washington Post's editorial today says: "Few of us are immune to the seductive image of the man on the white horse -- the incorruptible leader who will ride to the rescue, sweep away the corrupt and small-minded and impose peace and order. In Pakistan, many ordinary people have such hopes for General Pervez Musharraf, who staged a coup against an unpopular elected government."
But the paper warns: "Democracy seems to have failed this Asian nation of 140 million people. Corruption is a way of life, and tax collections have fallen almost to zero; the state does not function, or functions only for the rich." It continues: "The two leaders who have alternated in power, Benazir Bhutto and the recently ousted Nawaz Sharif, both failed their country miserably. ... Sharif had turned against the Supreme Court, the press and other institutions essential in a free society; Pakistan provides yet another reminder that elections are not enough to constitute a democracy."
The WP sums up: "Musharraf promised a restoration of democracy. ... But the general has yet to explain when or how democracy will be restored. ... There's not much reason to believe that a career military man, with no clear road map and no governing experience, will handle [the country's many] problems more successfully than his predecessors. There are few models around the world of coup plotters who have succeeded as civilian administrators."
AFTENPOSTEN: Further destabilization in Pakistan could lead to increased 'Talibanization'
In Norway's daily Aftenposten, analyst Gunnar Filseth comments: "From an Indian standpoint, General Musharraf is a real Kashmir hawk, who helped spark off last summer's mini-war between the two unfriendly [south Asian] nuclear powers, and who may -- New Delhi thinks -- provoke a larger conflict. A country with nuclear weapons at its disposal has now come under military control. So isn't the fear that there is something worse in the offing a legitimate one?"
The commentator notes: "Of course, Pakistani nuclear weapons were controlled by the military even before the coup. ... And in the immediate future, Pakistan's generals will have much more on their hands domestically than they will internationally. ... But in the longer term, the situation can change. The decisive role in this change can be played by the outside world. How it reacts may bring peace or war to the region."
Filseth concludes: "Yet the international community faces a dilemma. The U.S. considers every military coup a good enough reason to stop its foreign aid. The West Europeans are likely to follow suit. That means that Pakistan's economy, now on the verge of bankruptcy, may begin a cycle of devaluation, inflation, and then public disorder -- the perfect breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalists. Pakistan has been one of the main sponsors of the Islamic Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Further destabilization in Pakistan could lead to the increased 'Talibanization' of the country."
NEW YORK TIMES: Until now opposition figures could generally count on staying alive
The New York Times comments today on recent events in Serbia and Belarus in an editorial titled "Deadly Politics in Eastern Europe." The paper writes: "Although politics has not been a profession for the fainthearted in Belarus and Yugoslavia, until now opposition figures could generally count on staying alive. But in both places activists have recently disappeared or suffered potentially fatal attacks in murky circumstances."
The paper goes on: "The most widely known incident was the car crash on October 3 that killed the brother-in-law and three bodyguards of Vuk Draskovic in Yugoslavia. Draskovic is an opportunistic nationalist who has served in [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic's government. ... At the moment he is nominally part of the opposition. ... If the government did try to rid itself of Draskovic, as he has charged, the goal may have been to prevent the formation of a unified opposition. ... A genuine opposition group called the Alliance for Change has recently staged nightly street rallies, though the police have beaten demonstrators several times."
"In Belarus," the editorial continues, "[which is] ruled by the Stalinist dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, four prominent opposition leaders have mysteriously disappeared since April. In each case the government says it has no information. ... If Lukashenka is now kidnapping opposition leaders, he may be trying to push the opposition into withdrawing from European-sponsored talks about the possibility of free elections next year. Or, as his ties have warmed slightly with Europe and Washington, he may simply be thinking he can get away with it."
The editorial concludes: "The Western group with the most influence in Belarus is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been inexplicably muted in its defense of Belarus's opposition. It, and foreign governments, must prove Lukashenka wrong by strengthening their support for Belarus's dissidents."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Belarus is in the direst political and economic straits
Another perspective on Belarus is offered today by news analyst Lee Dembart in the International Herald Tribune. He writes from Minsk: "In more than 30 years in journalism, ... I have never been so moved as by the [present] situation in Belarus, whose 10 million people had thought in 1991 that they were finally free after 70 years of domination by Moscow, punctuated by the brutal and murderous rule of the Nazis in World War Two."
The commentator goes on: "Of the 15 new countries formed by the collapse of the Soviet Union eight years ago, Belarus is in the direst political and economic straits. Violations of human rights are becoming more serious and more alarming. ... The government insists that freedom of the press exists, but there is continuing harassment of newspapers not controlled by the state. ... 'Lukashenka wants to destroy all the institutions of civil society,' a newspaper editor told me."
Dembart says that "coming to Belarus is like going through a time warp to the old Soviet Union. The state is omnipresent and controlling. ... The Belarus ruble is suffering hyper-inflation that is making it virtually worthless. The average income ... has fallen to $30 a month. Food shortages are widespread and common." He sums up: "[Last] Sunday morning, the militia beat up scores of demonstrators after thousands of protesters began their march. 'It's getting worse,' the journalist said. 'People are beginning to disappear. Newspapers are being shut down. The economy is in shambles. The president is illegitimate.'"
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: This blood bath doesn't seem to perturb Western leaders
The Wall Street Journal Europe writes today of "seeing no evil in Chechnya." The paper says: "The Russian army and air force have already killed thousands of civilians in Chechnya [including during the 1994 to 1996 war] and are gearing up to level what is left of the capital, Grozny. But this particular ," the paper observes, "by comparison to which the recent East Timor bloodletting was a mere trickle, doesn't seem to perturb Western leaders bent on 'cooperating' with the Kremlin."
The editorial goes on: "Chechnya undoubtedly is home to some unwholesome characters. The republic is ruled less by its elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, than by professional war mongers. ... Kidnapping and arbitrary murder are rampant. ... But," the paper argues, "by now it should be clear that Russia's indiscriminate bombing of Chechen villages has little to do with fighting crime or terrorism. The military campaign is more likely political cynicism at its ugliest. The nationalistic sentiments it has roused have boosted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's popular support ahead of next year's presidential election."
The WSJ concludes: "For all its huffing and puffing, Moscow is weak and highly sensitive to international opinion. It is time for Western officials to begin expressing some opinions, rather than pretending that they are dealing with a normal country. The West can hardly preach 'humanitarian intervention' in places like Indonesia, while shutting its eyes to the horrors of Chechnya."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Sanctions are not the cause of Iraqi people's suffering
Finally, in today's International Herald Tribune, U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger defends the policy of continuing United Nations sanctions against Iraq against those who say the Iraqi people are bearing the sanctions' brunt. He says: "The people of Iraq are indeed suffering today, but the cause is not sanctions. It is," he argues, "the policies of Saddam Hussein."
Berger writes that for five long years, Saddam has refused to implement the policy known as the oil-for-food program. That's an arrangement, agreed upon with the UN, under which Iraq can sell some of its oil in exchange for food and medical supplies. In delaying implementation of the program, Saddam hopes "to manipulate international opinion by perpetuating the misery of his people." Berger adds: "In fact, the amount of food and medicine that Iraq has been able to purchase under the [oil-for-food] program is greater than all the humanitarian aid the UN has provided to all the other countries in the world in the last three years."
"Even so," Berger continues, "Saddam continues to hinder the program and deprive all his people of its benefits. Today, according to the UN, one-third of all the medicine that has arrived in Iraq since the start of the oil-for-food program sits undistributed in Iraqi warehouses. ...Meanwhile," Berger says, "the UN Security Council is unanimous in its judgment that Iraq has not fulfilled its obligations to the international community. It has not disarmed. It has not forsworn the development of weapons of mass destruction. ... It has not stopped the repression, torture and abuse of its own people, from Kurds in the north to Shiites in the south." The US national security adviser concludes: "Only ... a new regime in Iraq ... will meet the needs of its people and its obligations to the world."