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Western Press Review: Duma Elections Predominate

By Brent McCann/Dora Slaba/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 20 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western Press today comments on Sunday's elections to the Russian Duma, recent developments in the Middle East, and the outlook for the IMF and WTO.

INFORMATION: The Russian general election is a huge leap back

In Denmark, Information runs an editorial that says "Russia's election campaign has raised serious questions about how far the country has come in establishing a democracy since Communism's collapse in 1991."

The editorial says the elections have been, as the paper puts it, "tarnished with grave violations, and the media have been involved in violent character assassination campaigns." The editorial continues, "bribes have been widely used to convince candidates to abstain from the election or change sides. A number of candidates who have been known as prominent figures in the underworld have run only to get parliamentary immunity from prosecution."

The paper says yesterday's elections are evidence of many things, but democratic progress is not among them. As the editorial concludes: "If one chooses to believe that in a country with fragile institutions such as Russia the electoral procedures are more important than the results, then the Russian general election is a huge leap back. It remains to be seen to what extent the balloting itself has been rigged."

WASHINGTON POST: The elections are sadly tarnished

The Washington Post advances a similar opinion about the Duma elections, but instead of criticizing the process the paper considers them in light of the current Chechen war. The editorial puts it this way: "As Russian missiles continued to pound away, Russians in the rest of the country were voting on Sunday in a parliamentary election." The editorial continues, "This is no small milestone for a country trying to make a transition from dictatorship to democracy."

What's troubling, the paper says, is that as the Russian people went to the polls they did not frown upon the war in Chechnya. The elections are, as the editorial says, "sadly tarnished, not only by Russia's war but also by its popularity among the Russian population."

The Post editorial says the Chechen war is not, as Moscow claims, about fighting "bandits." Russia is attacking an entire population, the paper says, and it offers an example of the recent terror Chechens have come to know. In the editorial's words; "We know...that Hamed Hasuyev was 60 years old, a retired policeman who believed Russian promises to harm no one but rebels who had taken up arms. He believed them until soldiers burst into his house ... and began carting away his belongings." The editorial continues, "When he objected to the looting, soldiers stabbed him, shot him, poured gasoline on him and set him on fire." The paper says that although such crimes are not widespread, in its words, "they are telling."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Duma elections are simultaneously a decision in advance for the presidential elections

In a commentary from Germany, Tomas Avenarius, in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung , says yesterday's elections, as he puts it, "are simultaneously a decision in advance for the Russian presidential elections in the summer of 2000."

Avenarius makes some assumptions of the elections outcome and looks toward the presidential election this way: Regarding the Fatherland-All Russia bloc of former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, he says the party will "have to consider whether there are potentials for success with their leading politicians". The party is running third in the balloting. He also notes that the "Unity" party close to the Kremlin, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is running well. The party is poised to finish either second or first.

Finally, Avenarius writes that while the Communists may win the most votes of any single party in the Duma elections, in his words, "their triumph does not count for much" when looking forward to the presidential race. He predicts "It may even be convenient for the Kremlin." Avenarius explains, "Against a [Communist Party-presidential candidate] it is easier to find a majority than against a candidate from the center. And the Communists cannot muster sufficient strength for a presidential majority."

Avenarius concludes that the person who stands to gain the most from yesterday's elections is Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In the commentator's words: "Above all, the prospects are favorable for the aging President Boris Yeltsin and his plans to heave into office an acceptable successor. Whether this will really be Premier Putin, or a surprise, time will tell." And Avenarius points out that making predictions regarding Russian politics is risky. As he puts it: "The half life for political success is very short in Russia and the champagne bubbling at the victory parties falls flat very speedily."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Recent steps show an acceleration of diplomacy that may now be unstoppable

Turning to the Near and Middle East, The Christian Science Monitor runs an editorial today on three recent events that it considers "historic". It lists the events: "Europe invited Turkey to join its 'club' of Western nations; One of the Arab world's most anti-Israeli nations, Syria, made its most serious attempt yet to make peace with the Jewish state; And the UN once again chose to isolate the region's rogue state, Iraq, until it allows a renewal of weapons inspections."

And the editorial says this about the developments: "These actions, coming within days of each other, reveal earnest attempts -- mainly by the United States -- to bring one of the most backward areas of the world into the post-cold-war era of shared global values."

The paper says that while change won't happen overnight, these events show that fewer and fewer nations can, in the words of the editorial, "block powerful influences such as the global market, satellite television, and campaigns for human rights and an end to military threats."

Syria and Turkey have, in the paper's words, "internal pressures to open up to change" and the paper says that is what the UN hopes to cause with its action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The editorial concludes, "These recent steps show an acceleration of diplomacy that may now be unstoppable."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Current signs indicate that Saddam prefers to endure renewed bombing

In more commentary about Iraq, specifically Saddam Hussein's subsequent rejection of the UN action, Heiko Flottau says in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that things don't look as good as some may think.

Flottau says, in his words, "Saddam has frequently vented his anger against the UN -- and later backed down. The latest resolution, whether it suits Baghdad or not, is [based on] international law." The commentator continues, "Now it depends on the Iraqi dictator alone whether he releases 22 million people from their quarantine which they have had to suffer because of him."

Flottau concludes, "But current signs indicate that Saddam prefers to endure renewed bombing rather than comply with the UN demands."

NEW YORK TIMES: Emergency lending is the one mission the IMF is best equipped to handle

Moving on to recent discussion regarding The International Monetary Fund, The New York Times runs an editorial supporting U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers for his proposal that the IMF move away from making long-term loans to developing countries and instead lend primarily to countries in temporary crisis.

As the editorial puts it: "That sensible proposal will attract bipartisan support in [the U.S.] Congress that has grown increasingly hostile to the fund's perceived failures in Russia, Brazil and elsewhere."

The editorial says that, in its words, "Some countries wind up borrowing from the fund for 30 or 40 years with no decisive results." The editorial continues, "Many of these countries ... could tap private capital markets instead."

In conclusion, the editorial supports some experts' opinions that the World Bank would do better to fight poverty in poor countries that cannot attract private capital. In the words of the editorial, "That leaves emergency lending as the one mission the fund is best equipped to handle."

HERALD TRIBUNE: Globalization cannot be forced

The Herald Tribune today runs a piece by Tom Plate that looks ahead to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be held in Bangkok in February. That is when 188 nations meet for the first major international economic conference since what the writer terms the World Trade Organization's recent "fiasco".

Plate says the United States and the West should take this conference seriously and understand that globalization cannot be forced.

He says that at the WTO conference in the U.S. city of Seattle, the U.S. hoped that WTO's Director General Mike Moore, in Plate's words, "would knock heads together and slap Asian delegates around if they tried to resist the Western Globalization process." Plate continues: "That backfired big-time. Mr. Moore will get a chance in the UNCTAD limelight to make amends and show that he is no toady of Washington."

Plate sees an opportunity in Thailand's setting alone, as he puts it: "The UNCTAD meeting is the perfect platform, not only because it is not so Western a show but also because Thailand offers a suitable host environment for what is at issue right now."

Plate also says that the U.S. would do well to send senior officials to the conference, specifically U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. As he puts it, "Many Asians would read her presence as proof of U.S. determination to put all [the recent bad feelings] behind."