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23 Sep, 2008 04:11

Opposition crumbles ahead of Belarusian poll

Opposition crumbles ahead of Belarusian poll

The Belarusian parliamentary election is to be held on Sunday, September 28, but the early vote has already started. This campaign is very different from what we saw two and four years ago. And the main difference is that the opposition has lost a large

Opposition leaders well-known outside Belarus – Aleksander Milinkevich and Aleksandr Kozulin – seem to have become exhausted from their endless struggle with the “authoritarian regime”, as they call it. They calmed down. Within a few days before the election nothing has been heard from Mr Milinkevich, and even his assistant refuses to contact the press. But
when the notorious opposition leader met German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, he asked her nothing else than to adopt a more flexible policy towards Belarus. At the same time Mr Kozulin stays in the United States after his trip across Europe, where he could only urge the western leaders not to forget the so-called “democratic forces” in Belarus when they decide to restore dialogue with the Belarusian administration.

As for the other opposition parties and movements, it seems that they are concerned more with their internal conflicts than with the election campaign. With just a few days left before the vote almost all of them have appeared in news because of some scandal involving their leaders. Another new trend inside the opposition shows a split between the leadership and their successors. The fact is that the main program point initially declared by the opposition was to withdraw all their nominations en masse just before the vote, accusing authorities of falsifying the results (and that even before the voters have cast
their ballots!). However, some of the nominees refused to obey the decision, and finally it had to be called off.

“I think the opposition has never been as weak as it is these days. And it has been weakening throughout the whole election campaign. Being used to get their financial, media and political resources from the West, they’ve lost this exclusive support. As to the split within the parties, on the one side there is the ”old leadership“, which is used to living on the western funds and out of the fight with the ”regime“. On the other side there are mostly young people, usually from provincial regions, who graduated in Europe or the United States. Being in the opposition to the Belarusian authorities, they want so to say socialise and find their place within the Belarusian mainstream, non-marginal politics. They want to get to the parliament and take what they can from the authorities and then build their political life on the new basis,” says political expert Yury Shevtsov.

The opposition’s “loss of the exclusive support from the West” to which Yury Shevtsov is referring is closely connected with the signals from Europe and the United States that their relations with Belarus could improve in the nearest future. Mostly, these signs have been made in form of a positive reaction to some Belarus’s steps, when it tried to meet the demands from the West: release of the last political prisoners, more open election campaign with full co-operation with international observers, discreet position on the conflict in South Ossetia. It is obvious that Minsk wants better relations with the European Union and the United States itself (why do you think noted PR-manager Timothy Bell is now working on improving President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Belarus’s image in the West?). Thus, the Belarusian marginal opposition becomes the “third man out”.

Some experts, like political analyst Vladimir Maskevich, doubt whether Belarus is “serious” in its move to meet the Western standards: “Belarus’s moves towards the West are always a way to bargain with Russia. While making an agreement with Russia, Lukashenko always flirts with the West, as if to show Moscow that if it does not accept his terms, he can go and find support elsewhere”.

Anyway, with international politics entering the election campaign the situation gets only more complicated. And the questions that are critical now are whether the results will be recognised outside Belarus and whether the OSCE observers will issue a positive report.

Meanwhile, the country’s leadership, namely President Aleksandr Lukashenko, has its personal doubts. First, no one gave Belarus any promises that the West will change its attitude after the election or that the results will be hailed as free and democratic. There are warnings that the opposition can detonate on election day with mass demonstration and that could become its “swan song”. On Monday Mr Lukashenko said that he will not allow any “disturbances” in Minsk and
other cities over the parliamentary election. He said the maintenance of peace will be in the scope of duties of the law-enforcement. But in this case there will be no way for the West to recognise the election results. At the same time if Mr Lukashenko wants the election to be recognised abroad he has to allow at least 5-10 opposition deputies into the parliament (that’s an average amount of deputies any party in Belarus usually has in the Chamber of Representatives – the lower
house of the parliament). But he wouldn’t like to do that, because he cannot be sure that these deputies would not become “uncontrolled” or would not transform into the opposition leaders of the new generation, with status and powers. Maybe that’s why his rhetoric is gearing up: last Saturday Mr Lukashenko threatened to break off all dialogue with the West if it fails to recognise a September parliamentary vote as democratic. The Belarus-West friendship can come to an end even before
it becomes a reality.

Belorusian parliament: a representative and legislative body of the Republic of Belarus. It consists of two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic. The House of Representatives consists of 110 deputies. The Council of the Republic is a chamber of territorial representation and includes eight deputies from every region and the Belorusian capital Minsk and eight deputies appointed by the President. The Parliament doesn’t play a significant
role in Belorusian political life, doesn’t influence major state policies and has a minimum of legislative powers (it even doesn’t have its own analytical body for elaborating legislation).

Darya Sologub for RT