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Editorials
Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Elections could be
crucial for Indonesia

Bullet The issue: The first free elections in decades have been held in Indonesia after a year of chaos.
Bullet Our view: The results could be crucial as Indonesia emerges from authoritarian rule.

IT'S too soon to assess the results of the Indonesian elections, but the fact that they were conducted peacefully was an encouraging sign after many months of violence on Java and other islands. The balloting is also being touted as free and honest, which would be quite a change after decades of rigged elections and stiff controls on political activity.

Although those changes are welcome, there is considerable uncertainty about the election results and whether they will produce an effective and popular government.

It's widely expected that no party will attain a majority in parliament and a coalition of two or more parties will be required to form a government. There is also uncertainty about the new president, who will be elected by the legislature.

There are five main parties in contention, including Golkar, the party of former President Suharto, who was forced to resign a year ago, and his appointed successor, B.J. Habibie. Golkar is given little chance to win because of its association with the discredited Suharto.

The strongest contender appears to be the Democratic Party of Struggle, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri. She became a symbol of opposition to Suharto's oppressive rule after the government tried to deny her leadership of the party.

She is the daughter of the late President Sukarno, one of the nation's leaders in the struggle for independence from the Netherlands, who instituted authoritarian "guided democracy" and aspired to leadership of the nonaligned movement. Sukarno was ousted by Suharto after the army crushed a Communist coup attempt in 1965.

That led to three decades of strong economic growth marred by corruption and repression of dissent.

The upheaval in Indonesia last year was ignited by the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which was devastating for the nation's economy. The collapse set off anti-Chinese riots in Jakarta and other cities and forced Suharto's resignation.

The elections are a vital part of Indonesia's attempt to pick up the pieces after a year of chaos.

Credit should go to Habibie, a former protege of Suharto, for organizing what appear to be free and fair elections although his prospects for victory are slim. There is speculation, however, that Golkar may be able to use its financial clout to keep Habibie in power when the parliament meets later this year to choose the president.

The most populous (population 210 million) country in Southeast Asia and the richest in natural resources, Indonesia plays a major role in the region, and its fate is a matter of concern in many foreign capitals. The election results could be critical to determining the course Indonesia will choose.

Tapa

War powers act
should be repealed

Bullet The issue: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing President Clinton of violating the War Powers Resolution in the conflict in Yugoslavia.
Bullet Our view: The War Powers Resolution should be repealed.

THE War Powers Resolution of 1973, resulting from the political turmoil of the Vietnam War and enacted over President Nixon's veto, requires a president to obtain congressional approval for "introduction into hostilities" of U.S. armed forces for more than 60 days.

Opponents of the Clinton administration's policy in Yugoslavia are citing the resolution in calling for an end to U.S. participation in the conflict.

However, the resolution muddies rather than clarifies the war powers of Congress and the president. It should be struck down or repealed.

The lawsuit is based on a 213-213 vote by the House on April 28 on whether to authorize U.S. participation in the bombing of Yugoslavia. Clinton ignored the tie vote and continued the bombing beyond May 24, the 60th day of the NATO action.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman dismissed the case, noting that Congress had sent "mixed messages" on the issue, since it passed an emergency spending bill on May 20 to help pay for U.S. involvement in Yugoslavia. Had congressional action been consistent, Friedman suggested his ruling might have been different.

The War Powers Resolution took powers away from both Congress and the president, injecting confusion. While the Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war, the act gives the president the power to wage war for 60 days without congressional authorization.

At the same time, it weakens a president's powers as commander in chief to respond in times of urgency, when there is too little time for congressional action, unless the United States or its forces are under direct attack. The War Powers Resolution has been regarded as unconstitutional by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

The fundamental problem is that declarations of war have gone out of fashion, leaving presidents free to engage in conflicts without them. But the law is an ineffective solution.

The plaintiffs indicated they plan to appeal Judge Friedman's dismissal of their case, but the contradictory congressional votes could confuse the constitutional issues to be decided. A simpler remedy would be for Congress to repeal the law.






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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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