Belarus’ unseen “democracy”: Sign of progress or show for the EU?

RIA Novosti / Andrey Aleksandrov
In a country often called “the last dictatorship of Europe”, the anticipation before Sunday’s presidential election has never been higher. However, some fear that an unseen freedom of ongoing pre-election agitation might be just a show for the West.

­Strumming the blues… Belarusian rock musician Igor Voroshkevich has been on the political bandwagon for years. He has played at nearly every opposition rally in the capital Minsk, even during the country's first-ever election, when current president Lukashenko was seen as the outsider.

”I remember in 1994, we were touring the country,” he recalls. “We did not really know who Lukashenko was then, but we all thought he will do much better than the then-favourite, Kebich, but one of my friends said ‘If Lukashenko wins, that is the end of our country’. I still do not know how he knew, but he did.”

Sixteen years later, Lukashenko is still firmly in power, but more and more people are opposing his seemingly endless stay in office.

“The opposition does have a chance, but it all depends on how many people they will bring onto the streets, how many people they can show how this current regime is a farce, and that they should put their fears aside and try to push for a better life, a life they all deserve,” Voroshkevich said.

Many believe that Sunday's election will be rigged. Allegedly, one of the main ways to falsify ballots is early voting, which in this election is already breaking records for its turnout.

Over 20 percent of registered voters have already made their choice. With observers not commenting on what they have seen so far, only guesstimates are available.

“Lukashenko is set to win,” said political scientist Aleksandr Feduta. “There is no need to wait for the official results of the election to know that, but the opposition leaders that are taking part in it, they are doing it for a reason. They are letting the people know that more and more are dissatisfied with the current political situation. They are making themselves heard, even if on a small scale.”

The very fact that such actions are possible is a novelty in itself. Free on-air time for candidates, sanctioned anti-government rallies – all that is a first time for Belarus. The reason is, according to some analysts, a pragmatic one.

The EU has already promised Minsk billions of euros if there is democratic progress and signs of a free and fair election. With the country hit hard by the global financial crisis, the money incentive is worth a lot.

The main question is – is it incentive enough for the people?