International Papers

The Yo-Yo Peace Plan

With peace talks on a yo-yo, the previously Kosovo-obsessed editorial pages largely ignore the subject. In Britain, the Times and the Independent venture forth with scolding opinions on the peace plan. The Times: “President Clinton’s admission that Russian troops in Kosovo may not now come under Nato control is irresponsible; only the probably tardy deployment of Russian forces can stop it being disastrous.” The liberal Independent: “[N]or should we crack open the champagne if, or when, Slobodan Milosevic finally signs on the dotted line. The aftermath of such an agreement may prove to be almost as nightmarish as what came before.” It concluded, “The military victory will, however, pale into insignificance by comparison with the task of recreating a civil society in Serbia. Above all, Serbia needs to win its own battles against intolerance. That will be a much more difficult war to fight.”

The world’s papers showed no reluctance to pontificate on Monday’s Indonesian elections. The slowness of the vote count, reported Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, resulted in the tabulation of less than 2 percent of the more than 116 million votes by Tuesday night, and the Straits Times of Singapore reported that “[s]ome tempers flared over the pace of the vote count.” The government had promised a 50 percent count by that time. An election official told the SCMP that the final result wouldn’t be announced until June 21. There were also reports of vote-buying by the incumbent Golkar Party of former dictator Suharto and of “logistical problems” such as defective ballots and “indelible ink” (designed to prevent multiple voting), which, in practice, “washed off voters’ thumbs in minutes.”

An editorial in the Jakarta Post declared the elections “a triumph for the Indonesian people and democracy,” but in light of predictions that Golkar would poll strongly in the country’s outer islands and might be able to hold on to power with the help of small Islamic parties, the Post said, “It would be a hollow victory and a terrible irony if our exercise in democracy failed to produce the very goal of the whole process: Voting out the status quo and putting a proreform government in its place.”

Although Indonesia is 85 percent Muslim, the state ideology of “Pancasila” declares it to be a secular nation. As a piece in Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune noted, “politicians, business interests and foreign governments are watching to see whether Islamic political parties gain ground” in the polling. Twelve of the 48 parties contesting the election are Muslim-based, and some want to make Islam the country’s established religion. In the final weeks of the campaign, two religious groups called on the faithful to support Muslim-affiliated parties, which was seen by many observers as an attempt to undermine front-runner Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle and daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia’s founding president. The story reported that there was a clash last week in Sulawesi between Muslim students, who questioned whether Indonesian Muslims would accept a female president, and supporters of Megawati. The Straits Times editorialized that “Indonesians are free to vote for any party they want, but that choice should be based on what unites them as Indonesians with non-Muslims, not what separates them.”

Although it now appears that in last week’s South African election the African National Congress failed by one seat to reach the two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to change the constitution, editorials supported President-elect Thabo Mbeki. Wednesday the Pioneer of India welcomed Mbeki’s “Africanist” agenda: “Immediately after the dismantling of Apartheid, [Nelson] Mandela’s main message was one of reconciliation among races. Five years later, Mbeki’s must be to Africanize. It must be Mbeki’s concern and responsibility to take a firmer stance on Black empowerment in every shape or form.” Giving a positive spin to Mbeki’s perceived “grayness” compared with his predecessor, the Pioneer said, “Mandela will be missed, of course. On the other hand, perhaps, South Africa may even be able to get a clearer view of its harsh realities, and its uphill tasks, without his overarching charisma. As we in India know only too well, in this process, charisma, sometimes, can play saboteur.”

One leader not faring so well this week was Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, who celebrates her “official birthday” Saturday. The Sydney Morning Herald attacked the “dour new image” of the monarch on Australia’s new coins, even mentioning her “double chin.” The Herald complained that the money carries “the visage of an old woman”–hardly surprising since the queen is 73. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Press of Christchurch was underwhelming in its support of the sovereign. Under the headline “Why we still need the Royals,” a columnist wrote, “It’s not so much that we’ve gone off the Royal family, we have merely outgrown them. … [Britain] is such an integral part of our history and our culture, I cannot envisage us formally breaking all our ties. If the Spice Girls did not push us to the brink, nothing will.”