Monday, 20 December 2010

Moscow wary as Lukashenko cracks down on election protests

Belarus went to the polls yesterday and preliminary results indicate that President Lukashenko has been returned with a whopping 79.7% of the vote.  Although the pre-election campaign was conducted with an eye to observing formalities, it nevertheless descended into recrimination and clashes between the opposition and the police.

Indeed Ria Novosti reports that protestors in Minsk attempted to storm the Belarusian Parliament building, provoking a ’fierce response’.  An attempt perhaps to emulate confrontations in Kyrgyzstan earlier in the year, when troops opened fire on demonstrators and battles raged over the possession of government buildings.

Despite previous contrary reports from the Russian news agency, Ria Novosti now says that OSCE observers were not satisfied with the conduct of the election.  The vote count, monitors say, was flawed and the police response to opposition rallies “heavy handed”.

That tallies with Dan Hamilton’s account on Conservative Home, although it must be said that his figure of 40,000 protestors is rather higher than most sources are quoting.  Although almost all the reports agree that one of the election candidates, Vladimir Nekliaev, was last night rushed to hospital with head injuries, after taking part in a demonstration.

The pattern is fairly predictable.  The election was conducted with some attempts to encourage competition, although it was by no means ’free and fair’.  It emerged early on that the incumbent would win heavily (as expected) and opposition supporters took to the streets alleging violations.  The police response is to make arrests and to attempt to disperse protesters with force.

We’ve seen similar trains of events, with minor variations, after other elections.

It will be interesting now to see what response, if any, is forthcoming from the EU and Russia.  There is a suggestion that Moscow won’t rush to endorse the result.  No doubt the way in which Lukashenko attempted to play Europe off against Russia during his last term will influence the decision.  A fair degree of wariness is understandable on either side.

It must be said that while there isn't genuine democratic competition in Belarus,  equally there's no credible opposition.  Neither the protesters, nor the international community, will be able to point to a candidate who could have beaten Lukashenko, had the count conformed to OSCE's standards.


Elli Davis said...

Lukashenko is called the last dictator of Europe, but I think it isn't just because he rules by an iron fist. As the last paragraph pointed out, even if legal elections were held, he would probably win democratically. The opposition is much too weak. But Lukaschenko has something to do with that, no doubt...Things won't change if people won't change as in the V4 countries.

yourcousin said...

Legitimate contenders for the highest office in any land do not just spring from the earth. It takes an infastructure of regional offices/officers, grassroots organizations etc, etc.

It's like trying to gain the First Minister's office without MLAs, local councillors, or constituency call centers etc. And even more importantly those bodies must be legitimately able to offer alternatives to the governing body, not just offer a symbolic fig leaf to what is essentially a one party system.

Chekov said...

That's all true, although as per my previous post, it's not the only reason that a credible opposition has not emerged.

yourcousin said...

I agree it's not the only reason, but I would argue that it is the main one.

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