For the past 20 years, elections as a political instrument used to introduce changes of a political conjuncture for the Belarusians have transformed into a sort of tradition resembling a Christmas tree decoration. People are still coming to the polling stations to cast their ballots but it is not the voice of reason or their high political expectations that guide them, given the fact that many of them know very well the kind of present that eventually will be brought by Santa Claus as represented by the Central Electoral Committee (hereinafter – “CEC”).
However, on October 12 (on the day following the presidential elections), the EU agreed to suspend the sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Thus, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “there appeared to have been less repression than in past elections”. Yet let’s take a look at the facts:
- in comparison with the 2010 elections where 10 candidates were registered by CEC, in 2015 only 4 names were entered onto the list;
- early voting rates in 2015 have reached 36%;
- as a result, president Lukashenko won the president elections with 83,49% (79,65% in 2010).
It seems that the Belarusian authorities have learned their lesson as given by the EU in 2010, and this time took the path of prevention, but not suppression, of the popular unrest – and they won! On Monday, Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his “convincing victory”. On the same day, the EU announced the suspension of its sanctions against the Belarusian political regime. Hence, two birds were killed with one stone: Minsk is finally on the path to European reintegration while reaffirming itself as a good old friend of Kremlin’s.
The legality of the presidential elections was also confirmed by the Statement of Preliminary Findings of OSCE when it was confirmed that “the voting process was assessed positively in some 95 per cent of observations; some procedural problems were noted. The overall transparency of the voting process was assessed negatively in 3 per cent of reports”.
At the meeting devoted to Belarus-EU relations which took place in Brussels on October 14, it was specified by the Head of Division “Eastern Partnership- bilateral”, Mr. Dirk Schübel, that the Belarusian authorities have taken a very important steps towards democratic changes: they have finally released 6 political prisoners (among them a former candidate for presidency Mikalai Statkevich) and have shown greater intention to cooperate with the international observers in comparison with the electoral campaign in 2010. Among the weak points of the elections, he mentioned the following:
- prevention from the participation in the elections of the best known candidates;
- unequal access to the media for the candidates;
- necessity to improve the voting and vote counting procedures.
However, there is another point which plays a crucial role in the understanding of the current political situation in Belarus – the de facto absence of the strong opposition. In this regard I would like to quote the famous Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, first Belarusian woman to be granted a Nobel Prize in literature, who said that “no one doubts that Lukashenko will win the elections. Our opposition is very weak. They are quarreling with each other, blaming each other for being KGB agents. Consequently, there is no single candidate representing the opposition. Apparently, it is a peasant psychology: everyone thinks of himself”.
To make a concluding remark, I must admit that the assessment of the last elections was rather controversial both in Belarus and in the EU. However, it is obvious that democracy is not capable of entering Belarus any further via formal political institutions. But what are the alternatives, if there are any, at the moment?