While news of the floundering peace deal in Yugoslavia monopolized headlines in most papers around the world Monday, the significance of Indonesia's first fair elections in 40 years was not to be ignored. Indonesia stands at a tumultuous crossroads in its history and many have pinned high hopes the elections' ability to reconcile bitter factional disputes in a country that has been rocked by economic chaos and political upheaval.
While several Western online publications carried reports on the elections, the issue did not receive the prominence it did in Asia. Sites such as the New York Times on the Web, latimes.com, washingtonpost.com and Britain's Electronic Telegraph, did not even carry the story on their front pages.
The Telegraph simplified the elections by regurgitating recent analyses that slated Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI) leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to win. The Post carried an Associated Press report and latimes.com carried an article that emphasized Indonesia's fragile predicament.
The Times did not carry an editorial on the election, but an article by staff writers presented a clear perspective. The report was rather pessimistic about Indonesia's democratic procedure. In the second paragraph, the Times quoted an election observer as having said, "You have to bear with us ... We are like a little kid who just started their first day in school." Later the report editorialized that the "vote is only the start of a long struggle for power in which closed-door deal making and money politics will supplant democratic openness."
Several publications did, however, give the elections more attention. Although the Internet edition of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post put the story below news from Balkans, it carried an up-to-date Reuters report that detailed the peaceful close of polling in Indonesia. Another story from earlier in the day lauded the election process and highlighted the unprecedented excitement Indonesians have shown with voter registration cresting at almost 90 percent. Malaysia's Star Online headlined the election proceedings and emphasized the importance of their being fair and peaceful.
Singapore's Straits Times Interactive carried news of the elections as its main headline and even featured a special section that focused exclusively on this landmark event in Indonesia. Of main concern for the Straits were various problems that stood to negatively impact the elections and it cautioned that the real story was not Monday's general elections, but November's presidential vote in the yet to be decided electoral college. But on the whole, the headline article was full of praise for Indonesia and its ability to manage relatively peaceful elections across 13,000 islands and 250,000 polling stations. An editorial praised the very unpredictability of the elections that the New York Times seemed to regard as chaos and a sign of an immature democracy. The Straits editorial said that the upheaval surrounding the elections is a sign that the country is finally becoming involved in the democratic process. The article declared that Indonesia "is having a real election, and it is that which is cause for celebration."
Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at iviews.com