International Papers

Spice Island Impeachment

The Asian press published obituarylike pronouncements about Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid this week, following his lackluster response to the Indonesian parliament’s February censure of him.

“Indonesia took another step on its slow and seemingly inexorable decline yesterday,” declared Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post Thursday. The Indonesian parliament censured Abdurrahman for his involvement in two financial scandals: “Buloggate,” which involves the alleged misappropriation of $3.5 million from the state food agency, and “Bruneigate,” which centers on the alleged misuse of a $2 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the president dismissed the charges against him as “baseless and politically motivated,” although he did apologize for any “unpleasant or unacceptable behavior.” Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that parliament will issue a second censure motion in late April, which could lead to the president’s impeachment in August.

The Jakarta Post conceded that the parliamentary maneuvers were “nothing more than an attempt to oust” the president. However, it added, “[T]he President seemed to have missed—or chose to ignore—the real message that the memorandum had sent to him: That he no longer has the support of the majority in the House.” The paper blamed Abdurrahman for creating the tension, “He antagonized the House so frequently, almost from the day he took up office, that he undermined the national consensus that led to his election in October 1999.” The editorial concluded:

While there is a small chance that the President may win the battle, he will not likely win the war. … Even if he survives the process, he will no longer be able to count on the support of the majority of the House factions. That being the case, his administration is likely to become even more ineffective than it is today.

The Financial Times summarized the causes of parliament’s disaffection with Indonesia’s first democratically elected president: During his 16 months in office, he has failed to solve the country’s economic problems and has offered no solution to the separatist rebellions in Irian Jaya and Aceh provinces or to the sectarian violence in Borneo and the Moluccas. The South China Morning Post predicted that the next stage in the saga could be “a free-for-all of corrupt deal-making” and intensified street protests. An opposition politician told the paper: “Mobilisation of the masses can be seen as part of the political bargaining. We can expect the climate in Jakarta to get very intense, which could easily create wider conflict, simply because this is the last resort for both sides. This marks the start of the last battle.”

The Jerry Lewis of Albania: When the English soccer team traveled to Albania for an international match this week, British journalists were shocked to see England’s captain, superstar David Beckham, ignored by the crowds, while a diminutive 86-year-old British comedian was mobbed by hundreds of autograph hunters. The Times explained, “Sir Norman Wisdom is idolised by Albanians, who remember him for brightening their lives with slapstick during 40 years of communism.” During Enver Hoxha’s regime, the only Western movies permitted on Albanian state television were the works of Wisdom. Most often seen as Norman Pitkin, a vaguely Jerry Lewis-ish pratfall-prone errand boy, Wisdom is still hugely popular on the streets of Tirana. (Click here to see Wisdom as Pitkin.) An op-ed in the Independent recommended comedy as a diplomatic tool:

It’s hard to hate people who make you laugh. By the same token, it’s hard to like people who don’t make you laugh. This is the root of many failed relationships between men and women, and the root of all Euro-scepticism. The French and Germans aren’t funny, so we are suspicious of getting into bed with them. The Americans, on the other hand, have given us The Simpsons, not to mention the Marx Brothers, so they’ve got to be worth kissing up to.

Oscars? Bah humbug! This year’s Oscars may have been the most global yet, but there were still disappointments. The Spanish papers, not surprised, perhaps, that Russell Crowe pipped Javier Bardem to the Best Actor statue, maintained their cool; indeed ABC applauded the academy’s choice of Crowe, since “it served, at least, to get him to take the gum out of his mouth.” The same could not be said for the Brits, however. The Daily Telegraph huffed:

We will be accused of crying sour grapes, because the Brits did so badly. But honestly! What an extraordinary, toe-curling, cringe-making, flabby-upper-lipped ritual is the annual Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles. … We yield to nobody in our fascination with Hollywood’s love of schmaltz and glitz. But thank God for the 3,000 miles of ocean that divide us. Strange beasts are safest observed from a distance.