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Stakeless General Elections in Belarus

Stakeless General Elections in Belarus

20/08/2012 - Analysis

On 23rd September next the Belarusians are being called to ballot to renew the 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives, the lower chamber of Parliament. This general election will however be just a sham since Belarus has not seen free, transparent elections in over two decades. Hence 103 of the 110 members of the outgoing Chamber of Representatives are officially independent but in reality they obey the "President of the Republic", Aleksander Lukashenko. In any event the Belarusian parliament has no real power, since the laws all depend on what the head of State wants.

The Last Dictatorship in Europe

Belarus has been under the iron rule of an authoritarian regime led by Aleksander Lukashenko since 1994 – he holds all of the power and controls all of the institutions, the civil service and society.
A former teacher of communist ideology in the Red Army, political border guard commissioner, Aleksander Lukashenko took over the management of a sovkhoz in 1987. Elected an MP of the Supreme Soviet of Soviet Belarus in 1991 he was appointed chairman of parliament's anti-corruption committee two years later. On 20th July 1994, aged 39, he was elected President of the Republic for the very first time on the basis of a populist political programme that promised to reimburse the financial losses caused by the spiralling rise in inflation.
Since his rise to power as head of State Lukashenko has continued to maintain and extend his power over the country. His regime is typified by constant Human Rights infringements and the falsification of any elections that are held. He has introduced a State ideology that is taught in secondary schools and institutes of higher education and also in companies, whereby liberalism is "qualified as an ideology that symbolises social inequality between men, profit and individualism." The Belarus economy, which is extremely corrupt, is now at its lowest ebb. The trade deficit is immense, inflation totalled 109% in January and the Belarus rouble has depreciated by 65% since 2011.

The country, which enjoys rebates on its gas deliveries recently received a third payment of 350 million € as part of a 3 billion $ loan granted to it by neighbouring Russia and the Community of Independent States. Incidentally, Moscow is very interested by the acquisition of the very best elements of Belarus industry. At the end of 2011 Gazprom acquired Beltransgaz, an operation that was a condition set by Moscow for Minsk to be able to enjoy gas price reductions.
On 31st May last the Russian President Vladimir Putin (United Russia, ER) reserved Minsk as his first trip abroad as part of his new term in office.

The Political System

In Belarus the candidates running in the elections, either national or local, almost always have no political experience and are appointed by the presidential administration. In the main the electoral committees traditionally comprise representatives of the ruling power. State company directors, the managers of kolkoz or sovkhoz, soldiers, hospital directors, civil servants, local representatives, are all linked to the regime to whom they owe their position. Aleksander Lukashenko controls the political parties, the unions, associations and all of the institutions in civil society.
On 6th January 2012 the ruling power strengthened its hold over the internet network. An Operational and Analytical Centre (OAC), that answers to the presidency was created to monitor all content before its distribution on the worldwide web. Access providers must register with the Communication Ministry and all cybercafé users, with shared connections have to reveal their identity. Information about every connection is kept and recorded for one year. Further sanctions were introduced, access to foreign sites was restricted (companies must for example use national internet domains) and the control over internet users has been stepped up.

The Belarus parliament is bicameral. It comprises the Chamber of Representatives (Palata pretsaviteley), which has 110 members elected for four years by a majority vote within the same number of constituencies, and the Council of the Republic (Natsioalnoye sobranie), which rallies 64 members 56 of whom are elected by the Minsk soviets, and those of six of the country's regions. The eight other members are appointed by the "president of the Republic". In the elections for the Chamber of Representatives all candidates must be aged at least 21 and find a minimum of 1000 support signatures in order to be able to stand for election in the constituency of their choice. All companies with at least 300 employees, established in the constituency can also put a candidate forward. The Belarus parliament has almost no powers except that of approving the draft laws which are all drawn up by the "president of the Republic"
Most (103) of the 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives say they are independent, 6 are affiliated to the Communist Party (KPB) led by Tatiana Holubeva and the last belongs to the Farmers' Party (APB) led by Mikhail Shimanski. The latter two parties are controlled by Aleksander Lukashenko.

Source: Wolfram Nordsieck

The Republican Party for Labour and Justice (RPPS) which supports the "president", led by Vasil Zadnyaprany will be participating in the general elections on 23rd September next. It says it is against any "colour revolution" and is fighting for the introduction of an electoral system that would be a mix of the proportional and majority vote. Mikhail Shimanski's Farmers' Party, the Communist Party led by Tatiana Holubeva and Belaya Rus (BR), an association founded in 2007 led by the outgoing Education Minister Aleksander Radkov, all three of whom are pro-Aleksander Lukashenko, will be putting candidates forward.

What is the state of play with the European Union?

Ostracized by the international community because of his constant human rights infringements, Aleksander Lukashenko is the only Head of State to be banned from staying in the European Union and the USA, a measure which previously had only been applied to one other person – the former President of former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic. Politically speaking, Belarus which is sometimes qualified as Europe's last dictatorship, is completely isolated.
In addition to the head of State, several of his official representatives are also banned from coming to the European Union. The list is regularly extended and now includes 243 people. On 28th February last Brussels adopted further sanctions against Minsk and decided to recall all of its ambassadors for consultation after the Belarus government's decision to dismiss the EU's ambassadors. The 27 EU countries also froze the countries assets and deprived 19 magistrates and 2 police chiefs of their visas, since they are believed to be responsible for the arrest and conviction of some of the regime's opponents. On 29th March last Brussels approved further economic sanctions against the Belarus regime and froze the assets of 32 companies that are linked to it.

Before this, the last clash between Minsk and Brussels dated back to 1998. In that year Aleksander Lukashenko expulsed several European ambassadors and their American counterparts from their residencies that lay near the "head of State's" own home in Drozdy (near Minsk). Work that was being undertaken at the presidential residency was the official reason quoted for the expulsion of the foreign representatives. After this the Belarus "President" and 130 of the country's leading personalities were banned from entering most EU States.
The US closed its embassy in Minsk in 2008 and is now represented there by a chargé d'affaires.

On 15th April last Andrey Sannikov, the regime's "enemy", co-founder of the Charter97 and candidate in the presidential election on 19th December 2010 (in which he came second just behind the outgoing Head of State, Aleksander Lukashenko) and his colleague Dmitri Bondarenko, leader of the Belarus European Civic Organisation were released from prison after spending 9 months there. The former was sentenced to five years in prison and the other 2 years.
13 political opponents are still behind bars including Ales Bialiatski, chairman of Vesna, a human rights defence organisation, sentenced in November 2011 to four and a half years in prison and detained in the gaol of Bobriusk, 150km east of Minsk, Dmitri Dashkevich, chairman of the Youth Front, his deputy, Oleg Lobov and leader of the Social Democratic Party Narodnaya Gromada, Nikolay Statkevich.
During the last presidential election on 19th December 2010, 700 people who demonstrated against the falsification of the election, were arrested.
The European Parliament, which is requesting the release of all political prisoners, indicated that "dialogue between the 27 and Belarus will not move forwards as long as the political prisoners are not freed and their full rights re-established". The European institutions continue to put pressure on Minsk, since the city is due to host the world ice-hockey championship in 2014.

On 4th July last a Swedish plane took off from Lithuania and released teddy bears over Belarus bearing messages about the infringement of freedom in the country. Aleksander Lukashenko immediately dismissed air defence head, Dmitir Pakhmelkine and the head of the border guards, General Igor Rachkovski. Two journalists were also arrested for having posed for a photo with the teddy bears. Moreover, on 3rd August, the "president of the Republic" expulsed the Swedish Ambassador and several diplomats. Ambassador Stefan Eriksson, in office for the last seven years, is accused of having tried "to destroy relations between Belarus and Sweden." Sweden is one of the most active countries in democratic development in Belarus. In the past the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt qualified Aleksander Lukashenko as a "little rogue".
Stockholm refused to approve the new Belarus ambassador and has withdrawn the residence permit from two Belarus diplomats who were invited to leave Sweden. Minsk recalled its entire diplomatic staff and closed sine die its chancellery in Stockholm.

The State of the Opposition Forces

In the opposition's opinion the real question is: should the general election be boycotted or not? The subject divides both parties and opponents. The boycott would of course deprive the election of all legitimacy, however taking part in the election, even if there were no chance of success, is a means of expressing one's claims.
Former candidates in the presidential election, Aleksander Kazuline (in 2006), Dmitri Us and Vitaly Rimashevski (in 2010), opposition members, Aleksander Atroshchankav and Viktor Ivashkevich and union leader, Henadz Fyadynich have signed an appeal for a boycott. "What is clear in our opinion (electoral fraud) must be clear for the majority of the Belarus," they declared. "People will not vote because they do not believe the elections will change anything,[/i]" stressed Vladimir Nekliaev, chairman of "Tell the truth", an opposition movement created on 25th February 2010.

The United Civic Party recently asked to the government to abolish the general elections qualified by Anatol Liabedzka as "pseudo-elections for a pseudo-parliament". He is considering the possibility of boycotting the general election on 23rd September next. In the past he considered standing for election but gave up the idea five days before the vote.
The most famous opponent, who is acknowledged internationally, Aleksander Milinkevich, winner of the Sakharov Prize awarded by the European Parliament in 2006, is standing in district 109 Uurushski. As leader of the freedom movement he has succeeded in acquiring the signatures required. "We are going to try and show that the opposition has candidates who are prepared to win the elections," indicated Yuras Hubarevitch, a member of Aleksander Milinkevich's support committee.

Just one month before the election there is only certainty: the Belarus general elections on 23rd September next will be falsified and as a result will not be acknowledged by any Western countries as having been free and transparent.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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