03/10/2008 - Results
The general elections organised on 28th September in Belarus, which the EU and the USA had designated a test of the degree of opening on the part of President Aleksander Lukashenko did not meet up to expectations. The election was marred by massive fraud: pressure on the electorate, refusal to inform observers, lack of security with regard to the ballot boxes. A quarter of the electorate (26%) chose to vote early which seems to have opened the way to various types of rigging. Turnout rose to 75.3% but only to 62% in Minsk. 70.82% of the Belarusians living abroad fulfilled their civic duty in 40 polling stations spread across 31 countries.
The opposition parties did not win any seats. According to official figures their candidates won 1% of the vote only! The opposition forces claim however that they won around 30 seats in the Chamber of Representatives (Palata pretsaviteley), the Lower Chamber in Parliament.
"In spite of some minor improvements (slightly more access by the opposition to the electoral commissions, greater facility to hold public meetings and 5 minutes (!) air time at peak hours on TV), these general elections do not meet OSCE criteria for democratic elections. The election took place in a strictly controlled environment with a campaign that was barely visible. Although in the main voting went well procedures worsened significantly during the counting of the votes. Promises to guarantee the transparency of counting were not kept," indicated the OSCE report; the organisation sent 477 observers for the election.
According to the authorities around 500 people (2000 according to an opposition party internet site) rallied just after the closure of the polling stations in October Square in Minsk to denounce the "electoral farce" which the elections had been. "Aleksander Lukashenko last dictator in Europe", "Dictators in the bin of history", "We want to live in a free Europe", could be read on banners brandished by demonstrators who also carried EU flags. The crowd then went to the KGB buildings in Lenin Square showing banners that read "Shame".
When the results were announced Valentina Svyatskaya, a member of the oldest opposition party, the People's Front declared "we cannot say that the opposition lost the elections since there were no elections." "The election was unfair and illegitimate," declared United Civic Party leader, Anatoli Liabedzka. "Aleksander Lukashenko does not want to improve the electoral system. He wants to improve his image with regard to the West. He is trying to survive between Russia's KGB, Vladimir Putin and the West. He wants to have better relations with the West so that he can negotiate with Vladimir Putin," maintains Vintsuk Vechorko, Vice President of the opposition party, United Democratic Forces.
"We still do not have democratic elections. We can talk of cosmetic changes but it cannot be said that these elections respected OSCE principles. The latter finds itself in a difficult position. It must produce a positive report but that will be difficult after what has happened," said Aleksander Milinkevich, one of the main opponents. Aleksander Kozuline, another opponent, did however say before the election that western countries should not break off dialogue with Aleksander Lukashenko. After the election he said that the latter had closed the door which the West was trying to open with him.
"The fear of demonstrations and the disapproval of the radical changes that may have occurred if the opposition had been elected led to this result. Voters were afraid of losing what they have," maintained the President of the Central Electoral Commission, Lidia Yermoshina, who said "the opposition is no longer the fashion." The Belarusians, notably the eldest appreciate the fact that Aleksander Lukashenko has succeeded in maintaining stability and spared them the economic chaos which their Ukrainian neighbours experienced after the collapse of the USSR.
The French presidency of the EU said it was "concerned" after the OSCE declared the elections non-democratic and called on Minsk to continue work in drawing closer to international standards. The OSCE's conclusions "worry the President of the Council of the European Union which calls on the Belarusian authorities to continue work to fall in line with international democratic standards," it stressed in a press release. It also demanded that the country "co-operate fully" with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights within the OSCE.
Aleksander Lukashenko recently increased gestures of opening towards the West, firstly by releasing on 16th and 20th August last political prisoners, Aleksander Kozuline, Serguey Parsyoukevich and Andrey Kim, then by refusing to acknowledge the independence of the two Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He also said that these elections would be more transparent than the previous ones and that they would herald the start of a new era in his country's relations with the west. He did however say that although he expected the EU to lift the sanctions that were applied to his country Minsk would not agree to improve its relations with the EU to the detriment of the Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister "believes that the elections not only bore witness to the population's sense of civic duty but also to the interest held by the Belarusian people in stability and continuity."
After these elections which were deemed "not very democratic" the EU will find it hard to justify lifting sanctions even though, with Vilnius and Warsaw's support - Belarus' neighbours – it would like to show a greater degree of opening. "The election results do not open the way to great optimism about a deep change in this country's democratic nature," stressed Eneko Landaburu, Director General for External Relations at the European Commission.
"European observers face a political and ethical dilemma. They can undertake a policy to make Aleksander Lukashenko a European leader with a nationalist leaning or remain faithful to their principles and qualify these fraudulent elections fraudulent," said Vintsuk Vechorko.
The OSCE will deliver a complete report in one month's time.