Although the election of the Islamic leader Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesia’s new president came too late to be reported in any of Wednesday’s papers, the ballot process was seen as giving hope for democracy. An op-ed in the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong said that “despite all the mess, the killing, the corruption and deceit, Indonesia is engaging in a more open and competitive political process than ever before.” The Guardian of London said in an editorial that the ballot by parliament marked “a crucial turning point” for Indonesia since it was the country’s first contested presidential election.
However, there were worries about the potential consequences of the defeat of the nation’s most popular presidential candidate, Megawati Sukarnoputri. The Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s national daily, said Wednesday that if she failed to win, the Indonesian economy could be halted by strikes and popular unrest. This was a warning made Monday by Gen. Zen Mulani, head of the country’s national intelligence agency, in a briefing to economists and presidential advisers. He said that banks and capital markets are expected to be the main targets of industrial action. In an editorial, the Age of Melbourne criticized Australian Prime Minister John Howard for publicly backing Megawati’s candidature on the eve of the vote. “Australia would be better served if he kept his own counsel on who should lead another nation,” it said.
In an editorial, the Daily Telegraph of London condemned as “disgraceful” the treatment meted out by the British police to Wei Jingsheng, China’s leading democratic dissident and a former nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The police seized and held him Tuesday as he tried to unfurl a banner in front of Queen Elizabeth and Jiang Zemin as they processed in a royal carriage up the Mall to Buckingham Palace during the Chinese president’s state visit to Britain. “This country is increasingly seen by dissidents as an accomplice of the Chinese Communist Party,” the paper said. Noting that the Chinese authorities had let it be known in advance that Britain would pay a penalty if it tolerated public protest during Jiang’s visit, it commented, “The Government may have been right to invite President Jiang to Britain, but it should not kowtow to repressive demands.” Wei himself told the press: “We think the police behavior is without reason. We thought it was only in China that freedom of expression was forbidden.” The Times of London said the police operated a policy of “zero tolerance” toward all demonstrators except for 40 Falun Gong practitioners who were allowed to practice their spiritual exercises opposite the prime minister’s office.
On Tuesday, Izvestiya of Moscow noted an alarming new tendency in Russia: In the absence of effective enforcement of property rights, people simply grab what they think should be theirs. It gave the example of the Barrikady agricultural cooperative in the Volgograd region, where peasant shareholders, claiming a combine harvester and a herd of cows as their own, seized them from a neighboring village. “This is how bloody slaughters have started in Russian history, leading in the end to two revolutions and the placing of Russia outside the civilized world for the entire 20th century,” the paper said.
The Moscow Times ran a comment by Yulia Latynina Wednesday on a rise in the approval ratings of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin because of Russian successes in the Chechen war. The writer said Putin is bound to slump again in the polls, though, because Russia will lose the war. “To win it requires money that is not in the budget, sober-mindedness that Russian leaders don’t have, and a readiness to fight to the end that too frequently is absent in Russian soldiers. It is funny to think that our army–in which ‘surgical strikes’ are useless because enlisted men shake the TNT out of the bombs and sell it–could consider fighting a country in which war is considered the one worthy male occupation.”
The Independent of London reported Wednesday from Moscow that TNT isn’t the only thing being sold by the Russian military. It said the Russian navy is selling off the kamikaze dolphins it trained to blow up enemy ships by carrying mines to them. “There is a general disposal of surplus military equipment, old trucks, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers, which the impoverished Russian military no longer needs or can maintain,” the paper said.
The Independent also reported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that the death of former President Julius Nyerere is generating “the biggest outpouring of collective grief that southern Africa has ever seen.” Madeleine Albright is among world leaders due to attend his funeral there Thursday amid “a 48-hour non-stop orgy of tears for Baba wa Taifa–the father of the nation.” The paper described a tearful child on television singing “You did more in your life than all the water in the sea.” This included running the economy into the ground and at one point having more political prisoners than South Africa, but his work in the cause of African emancipation was celebrated in a poem by Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of neighboring Zambia. That country’s Post quoted from the poem: “I am sure you know of all those successes … in Namibia, South Africa. Why then, Julius, do you leave Burundi unfinished?” Kaunda told the Post that he would present another poem to Nyerere’s widow at the funeral.
In Israel Wednesday, Ha’aretz led its front page with a report from Washington that Congress’ refusal to include funds to implement the Wye agreement in the foreign aid bill it approved this week “could throw a monkey wrench” into both a final-status agreement with the Palestinians and a deal with Syria. The Clinton administration had specifically pledged $1.2 billion in aid to evacuate residents, relocate industries, and establish military facilities, the paper said. It added that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak remains confident that the $500 million dollars of aid slated for this year will eventually be approved because “Congressional Republicans say they do not object to the aid in principle–it is merely a tool in their power struggle with the White House.”
A strange development occurred this week in the Australian referendum campaign on the abolition of the monarchy. On Monday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Buckingham Palace Web site had quietly changed its description of the queen’s constitutional position in Australia from “head of state” to “sovereign.” This apparently delighted many Australian monarchists who have been countering the Republicans’ “resident for president” slogan with the bizarre claim that Australia already has an Australian head of state in the person of the governor-general, the queen’s representative there. Buckingham Palace, while claiming to be aloof from the campaign, admitted to the Daily Telegraph Wednesday that it made the change to its Web site–calling it “an appropriate amendment”–but wouldn’t say why. The Herald said monarchist Prime Minister John Howard was under suspicion and linked the change to the monarchists’ strategy of pretending the queen doesn’t exist or, at any rate, doesn’t matter. The latest Herald opinion poll has supporters and opponents of an Australian republic at 43 percent each.
It will only be known after the vote of Nov. 6 if the queen will go the way of a species of dinosaur just discovered in Australia. The Australian reported Wednesday that scientists have discovered a dinosaur the size of a small gray kangaroo and have curiously named it “Qantassaurus intrepidus” after the Australian airline, Qantas. They say it is 115 million years old and should contribute to the paleontological debate about whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded.
A piece of modern British art which New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has fortunately been spared is My Bed, by Tracey Emin, one of five artists short-listed for the annual $30,000 Turner Prize. Featuring prominently in an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London, it is said to be the bed in which the artist spent a week contemplating suicide after breaking up with a boyfriend. The Daily Telegraph said Wednesday that the bed “is covered in urine-stained sheets and torn pillows and is surrounded by the detritus of her sojourn. This includes half-smoked cigarettes, condoms, packets of contraceptive pills, empty vodka bottles, a pregnancy testing kit, sanitary towels, nylons and three pairs of her dirty knickers.” The paper’s art critic compared the exhibit to “unprocessed sewage” and said that if Emin wins the prize, as she very well might, “her victory will testify not to the vitality of British art but to a campaign of promotion so brazen that it has left even the cynical London art world awestruck.”