21/03/2006 - Results
Unsurprisingly Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected on Sunday 19th March as President of the Republic of Belarus in the first round of the presidential election with 82.6% of the vote, ie seven points more than in the last presidential election on 9th September 2001. According to the official results from the Electoral Commission his main adversary, the only candidate for the democratic opposition forces Alexander Milinkevich won 6% of the vote, the leader of the Liberal Democrats (LDPB) Sergueï Gaïdoukevitch, 3.5% and Alexander Kazuline, leader of the Social Democrat Party, 2.3%.
The participation rate is said to have reached 92.6%, ie 8.7 points more than five years ago. As the electoral law allows them more than 20% of Belarusians chose to vote early, a procedure denounced by a great number of international observers who seen in this one of the best ways of ballot stuffing. Hence many students said that they had been invited by their teachers to vote early in polling stations where there was no independent observer.
More than 1,200 international observers monitored part of the election that took place in a highly tense atmosphere.
"These elections will not be acknowledged either by us nor the democratic countries. These figures will make people laugh. In Poland when people started to laugh at the Communist authorities, Solidarnosc won and this is what we are driving towards," declared Alexander Milinkevich when the first results were announced. "I wouldn't be surprised if someone claimed 120% of the vote. I did expect the campaign to be disloyal and dishonest but I did not expect it to be as scandalous as this. When we started off in these elections we knew they would not be fair. But we are not sorry. I believe the government regrets that it allowed the registration of independent candidates. We shall demand, including via international structures, for this election to be considered invalid," Alexander Milinkevich also maintained, pointing out that more than 80 members of his campaign staff had been imprisoned for reasons ranging from insult to the organisation of an unauthorised meeting!
As the only opposition candidate had invited them around 10,000 people rallied in October Square, the main square in Minsk, as soon as the polling stations closed brandishing the name of Alexander Milinkevich and shouting "Long live Belarus!" "I call on each and every one of you to come to October Square at 20:00. I guarantee that none of us are fomenting violence. We shall not even try to force our way through the anti-riot police. We shall just walk and discuss and we shall say no to fraud and no to lies. The more they threaten us with violence the stronger the demonstration will be. We are not afraid," declared Alexander Milinkevich, the day before the presidential election saying that he was "certain" that the police forces would not shoot at the crowd. "People have overcome their fear. Our new aim is to have new honest elections. They say that we want revolution. We just want free, honest elections without cheating. The government says that the majority supports it. This is a lie. Justice and truth are with us. We have triumphed over fear," said the opposition candidate to the crowd on Sunday evening holding a bunch of pink carnations in his hand.
"We are against revolution and spilling blood. But a change is vital," declared the Social Democrat leader Alexander Kazuline who had called for people to join Alexander Milinkevich in his demonstration. "The population will rise and feel its strength. Alexander Lukashenko cannot maintain power by force. It is time for Belarus to wake up and rid itself of fascism and dictatorship. No Belarus citizen wants war we just want each citizen's voice to be heard," he added.
The police forces, who were in the neighbouring streets, did not intervene against demonstrators who were waving blue opposition flags (a piece of jean) and the national Belarus white and red flag prohibited by Alexander Lukashenko. Some car drivers honked their horns as a sign of support to demonstrators. "If there is any provocation it will be the authorities' responsibility," warned Milinkevich as he voted in a Minsk school.
Demonstrations were also organised in several European countries (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic). Two hundred people gathered in Gdansk, others in Krakow and Bydgoszcz as well as on the borders between Poland and Belarus. "What is happening in Belarus sullies Europe's conscience. We must protest. Alexander Lukashenko wants to cut Belarus off from the world. He will not succeed," declared the Vice President of the European Parliament Janusz Onyszkiewicz, who was forbidden entry to Belarus.
"Until now we have tolerated them. But as soon as they cross this line we shall take tough measures. I hope to God that they do not dare do anything in this country. We shall break their necks immediately – like you would a little duck," threatened Alexander Lukashenko on 17th March during a TV interview. He also referred to the declarations made by KGB chief Stepan Soukhorenko who had promised to sentence to death or imprison for life any demonstrators he believed to be terrorists and against whom he recalled, the death penalty could be applied. "We are undertaking this election for ourselves. The master here is the Belarus population. The important thing is that this election takes place in respect of the Belarus legislation," maintained Alexander Lukashenko. "I guarantee that there will be no 'coup d'état'. Buildings will not be taken by force nor will the streets be blockaded. In respect of the Constitution we shall take the necessary measures," he maintained sure of his victory.
Lukashenko also called on foreign observers present in Belarus for the presidential election "not to go beyond their prerogative." "We have not become puppets in the hands of others," he stressed repeating that the western countries notably the USA were preparing a "coup d'état" against him. The director of the Central Electoral Commission, Lidya Ermochina maintained that the campaign had been "loyal and fair and that any attempt to pressurize Alexander Lukashenko would be turned on its perpetrators."
On the eve of the election the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso had warned the Lukashenko regime against using force that was bound to have repercussions on relations between the EU and Belarus. For his part the high representative for the EU's common foreign and security policy Javier Solana, said how indignant and surprised he was at the warning on the part of the Belarus authorities and warned that any violence against peaceful demonstrators would "be the cause of a major international reaction."
Former professor of communist ideology in the Red Army, a bachelor of the faculty of history of Moguilev and the Agricultural Academy, political commissioner for the border guards, 51 year old Alexander Lukashenko became a sovkhoze manager in 1987. He was elected representative of the Soviet Supreme of Soviet Belarus in 1991 he was appointed two years later president of the parliamentary anti-corruption commission. On July 20th 1994, then 39 years old, he was elected President of the Republic on the basis of a populist programme promising the repayment of the financial losses caused by the vertiginous rise in inflation rates.
In November 1996, Alexander Lukashenko organised a referendum enabling him to extend his first term in office by two years (which ended in 2001) and to widen his presidential prerogatives although the Belarus electoral law did not allow the modification of the Constitution by referendum. He was elected Head of State in the first round of the election on 9th September 2001 for a five year term in office with 75.65% of the vote versus 15.65% to his main adversary opposition candidate, Vladimir Gontcharik. That presidential election was not acknowledged by the observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and was challenged by the opposition.
Since the Belarus prohibited him from standing a third time in the presidential election Alexander Lukashenko organised a second popular consultation on 17th October 2004 which was also the day of the last general elections – also denounced as being fraudulent by the observers responsible for monitoring the election – in order to maintain power at the end of the second mandate. Voters were called to answer the following question: "Do you give your permission to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to stand for the Presidency of the Republic of Belarus?" By an illegal referendum and according to results that were believed to be rigged by all of the international organisations responsible for monitoring the election three quarters of voters (77.3%) said they were in favour of adopting the amendment to the Constitution lifting the limit on the number of re-elections to the Presidency of the Republic for one and the same person! Alexander Lukashenko was therefore re-elected on 19th March for his third term in office as president.
On the eve of the election Oleg Manaïev director of the independent institute for socio-economic and political studies (NICEPI) that has been banned for over a year by the authorities for having published independent surveys, reported on an independent electoral survey undertaken in March attributing 58% of voting intentions to Alexander Lukashenko versus 27% for Alexander Milinkevich. "But a "re-distribution of the votes" would probably give him a result closer to 80%," he stressed. "According to the most recent poll that we succeeded in undertaking amongst nearly one thousand five hundred people in February, more than half of the voters – between 55-58% - were ready to vote for Alexander Lukashenko. His main opponent Alexander Milinkevich was due to win around 17 to 27% of the vote. In all the two opponents, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kazuline would undoubtedly rally no more than 30% of the vote even if the results were not rigged. Above all Alexander Lukashenko has the support of the older population who appreciate that pensions are paid regularly and who fear greatly what they might lose," declared Oleg Manaïev who concluded that "such a figure would be a justification of the policy that he has led for the last twelve years. Any figure lower than that would be a sign of weakness. A score of 30% for the opposition would enable his rivals to say that they represent a large wedge of public opinion. And Alexander Lukashenko would not allow that." Oleg Manaiëv believes that although the Belarusians find it increasingly difficult to accept the abuse of power the population's aversion for agitation makes an Orange Revolution as in the Ukraine highly unlikely. "I do not believe that we shall see a mass reaction as in Georgia or in the Ukraine. I rather fear the day when there is a revolution in Belarus and that it will be a violent situation as in Romania or in Kirghizstan," believes the director of the NICEPI. "Unlike its neighbours Belarus does not have the ferment of a strong, ancient national identity. What the Belarusian has learnt from history is to hide, accept any type of power and wait for time to pass. Belarus is an urban country but at least half of the population has maintained a mentality which is anchored quite firmly in the countryside, they are conservative, patriarchal and respectful of power," he concluded noting however that the TV appearances of the two opposition candidates, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kazuline had been enough to "take public opinion forwards greatly."
Although Alexander Lukashenko finally succeeded in winning the election that was a foregone conclusion Alexander Milinkevich noted a date in his calendar. The candidate of the democratic opposition forces and Alexander Kazuline called on their supporters to return to demonstrate against the results of the presidential election in October Square in Minsk on Monday 20th March. "If there were ten thousand of us on Sunday night this was already good. But whatever happens we shall continue the fight," declared Alexander Milinkevich on the eve of the presidential election. The only candidate for the democratic forces and the entire Belarusian opposition, united for the first time during a presidential election need now more than ever the support of the European Union to undertake the difficult task of taking their country forwards on the road to Democracy.