Continuity in leaders now emerges in Asia What others say

Posted: Monday, May 10, 2004

In the rough-and-tumble world of Asian politics, there seems to be a common theme this spring continuity.

After trailing in the polls until the final few days, Chen Shui-bian narrowly was re-elected president of Taiwan in March subject to a recount (this) week.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun achieved a more decisive, but indirect, victory in March. Roh, who had been impeached, became the central issue in the National Assembly elections and voters responded by tripling the number of seats held by his Uri party. Analysts say that puts tremendous pressure on the Constitutional Court to acquit Roh, who could reassume the presidency.

(Last) week, the pro-West Golkar party of former President Suharto won control of the People's Representative Council in Indonesia. Suharto ruled the islands for 32 years, and the legislative election results make it seem likely that his party's candidate will oust incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri in July's presidential election.

India's parliamentary elections have been playing themselves out in increments for nearly a month, and the results are expected next week. Atal Behari Vajpayee will get another term if his Bharatiya Janata Party wins a majority. He will be replaced by Sonia Gandhi, widow of Rajiv Gandhi, if the Congress Party prevails.

A booming economy should help Vajpayee. Gandhi is a native Italian rather than Asian Indian, and that could offset the political magic of her famous surname.

Finally, incumbent Gloria Arroyo faces movie star Fernando Poe in (today's) Filipino presidential election. Arroyo trailed badly in the polls earlier this year but now has a comfortable lead and is expected to win easily.

If Vajpayee and Arroyo do prevail, it will be a shot in the arm for the Bush administration, because both have been solid allies in the war on terrorism.

Voters tend to stick with incumbents during wars and other times of crisis, and that may account for what is happening in Asia. It remains to be seen whether the same principle will apply this fall in the United States.

Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - May 8

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