Today's Papers

Electoral Quarrel

The New York Times leads with the Ukrainian parliament declaring last week’s presidential runoff results invalid. The resolution, which was one of 11 put up at Saturday’s special session, bolsters widespread evidence of voter fraud and bureaucratic hanky-panky, but that’s about it. As the Times notes, “Parliament … does not have the authority to overturn the election results.” The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with Shiite leaders in Iraq insisting that nationwide elections occur as scheduled on Jan. 30. In a joint statement issued by 42 political parties and squired (apparently) by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the Shiites shot down a recent request from Sunni and Kurdish groups for a six-month delay.

Saturday’s nonbinding motion was at least a moral victory for challenger Viktor Yushchenko, the papers report. As protests raged on the streets of Kiev, parliament also called for an immediate overhaul of the central election commission and an investigation into allegations of fraud. The Post picks up on the fact that current prime minister and ersatz presidential winner Viktor Yanukovych scuttled a planned news conference yesterday, presumably after getting wind of the legislative wrist-slap. Yushchenko has demanded new elections as soon as Dec. 12. He’ll take his claims before the Ukrainian supreme court on Monday.

The date of Iraqi elections was an expected sticking point, but the Post frets that it has become “an escalating dispute that is beginning to magnify the country’s ethnic and sectarian fault lines.” Shiites, some 60 percent of the population, are keen to secure a governing majority, while the Sunnis and Kurds want to negotiate for balanced representation. A senior Shiite official dismissed qualms about insurgent violence and a possible Sunni electoral boycott: “[A delay] is a message to the terrorists that they are victorious.”

It’s still not clear who exactly has the authority to change the election date. According to the NYT, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq released a statement saying that it could not force a delay. Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi continued to be coy about his own election-day preference.

The NYT fronts a reality check on President Bush’s much touted Social Security personal investment accounts. Financing the plan will require borrowing “from hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars over a decade,” a risky move with the national debt already hovering around $7.5 trillion. Still, nobody’s willing to raise taxes or slash benefits. As the Times helpfully reminds us, “Mr. Bush and the Republicans in Congress have paid little political price in the last four years for the swing from budget surpluses to deficits.”

The LAT fronts an excellent investigation of a nuclear-weapons scam in South Africa. Police discovered 200 tons of equipment designed to operate centrifuges for enriching uranium in a factory outside of Johannesburg, all packed up and bound for Libya. A little international snooping soon revealed that the whole thing had been arranged by infamous Pakistani scientist and nuclear black marketer Abdul Qadeer Khan. A South African official calls it “one of the most serious and extensive attempts” to build up an illegal nuclear arsenal.

A new national counterterrorism center is set to open in a few weeks, the WP reports inside. With all the flap over the intelligence reform bill, the exact nature of the center remains uncertain. It’s currently set up to do the bidding of the CIA, with a director who would be appointed by Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss. However, the compromise reform bill calls for the center to be run by a presidential appointee. In any case, the hospitable Goss “has already begun clearing out [office] space … either for a director of national intelligence, should the bill pass, or for additional staff for himself as DCI with new budget authority.”

Both the NYT and the WP contemplate the meaning of single-party dominance in American politics. The GOP’s “uncontested control of the federal government leaves it in a position to win long-term loyalty among key voter blocs and craft an enduring majority,” the Post speculates in its front pager. The Times demurs a bit, citing how “periods of one-party rule sometimes merely mask divisions and delay conflict.” Both analyses trot out FDR and LBJ comparisons.

You Should Be in Pictures…
The NYT Arts section catches word of an NBC plan to turn the 9/11 Commission Report into an eight-hour mini-series. The network’s entertainment president promises to keep it tasteful. “We’re not going to turn this into some kind of disaster pic,” he said.