News / Europe

Lukashenko Dominates Belarus Election Day

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits Mir Castle Complex in Grodno region, 16 Dec 2010
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits Mir Castle Complex in Grodno region, 16 Dec 2010
TEXT SIZE - +

Belarus votes for president on Sunday. The suspense is largely over the margin of victory for Alexander Lukashenko, hailed by some as Europe's longest serving president, reviled by others as Europe's "last dictator." 

This TV ad urging people to vote is a rare reminder that Belarussians elect a president to a new five year term on Sunday. There are no election posters, no sound trucks, and only a handful of rallies. This is Minsk, a city where streets carry the names of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The secret service still proudly calls itself the KGB.

The leading presidential candidate is Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled this former Soviet Republic since 1994. To defenders, this burly former collective farm manager is a wily nationalist who now holds the crown of Europe's longest serving president. To his critics, he is Europe's 'last dictator." And his tidy law and order country is a Soviet theme park.

Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus, 18 Dec 2010
Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus, 18 Dec 2010

'Absolute lawlessness'

Andrei Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, is one of nine opposition candidates competing in the election. Tragedy marred his campaign when his press spokesman was found hung in his dacha. Sannikov sees this death as part of a wider lawlessness.

"It is a system where people have no choice, said Sannikov. "They cannot choose any government, be it central government or local government. There is absolute lawlessness in the country. That is what I hear at every meeting."

The mysterious death was an exception in a campaign where legal curbs replaced the violence of the last election, in 2006. This time, candidates were allowed to hold public meetings and even two "live" televised debates.

Media coverage

But advertising was limited. Candidates were not allowed to spend more than $62,000. In this country of 9.5 million, that is less than one penny per voter. Candidate Yaroslav Romanchuk says state controlled TV and radio lined up behind President Lukashenko.

"Ninety percent of all the coverage of political events in Belarus counted by The Association of Journalists was connected to coverage of Mr. Lukashenko, and only 10 percent for all candidates, and predominantly in a very negative light," said the candidate.

'Buying the election'

Romanchuk, an economist, charged that the president is trying to 'buy' the election.

After the election was called, the president raised state salaries by one third. This year, the money in circulation has increased by 50 percent. The national debt has increased five fold. With 3,000 Belarusian rubles buying only $1, Belarus has only enough hard currency in the bank to pay for two months of imports.

The bills will be tough to pay. Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin estimates that Russia has given Belarus $50 billion in subsidies since it gained independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago.  Now, Russia is raising gas prices to market levels and is cutting supplies of discounted oil. Overall, Russia is cutting its annual subsidies to Belarus by three quarters.

Independent foreign affairs expert Aliaksandr Tsikhamirau, predicts that Lukashenko will win the election, then adjust the economy slowly, to avoid a shock.

Tsikimarau added that tension with Russia boiled into a feud this year.

'Mafia godfather'

Russian state TV aired a documentary calling Lukashenko a mafia godfather.

In Minsk, Molotov cocktails went off outside the Russian Embassy. President Lukashenko courted the Kremlin's archenemy, Georgia.  To diversify from Russia, Lukashenko visited China and Venezuela. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez visited here a few weeks ago and promised to supply Belarus with enough oil for "200 years."

Kremlin analysts say Russia toyed with funding an opposition candidate. Then it backed off challenging the Lukashenko political machine. The Kremlin views Belarus and neighboring Ukraine as key buffer states between Russia and NATO and between Russia and European Union.

"That is out tragedy. Russia might see us as a buffer state. And the European Union, first of all Poland, might see us as buffer state against Russia. I don't need it. I don't need frontiers, dividing lines," said opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov.

Last week Russia and Belarus reconciled after what Lukashenko called a 'lovers quarrel.'

Belarus' president then refocused on winning a fourth term. Not content with appointing over 99 percent of the 70,000 official poll watchers,  President Lukashenko went on national television Friday to urge voting station directors to call the police if they feel that the 1,000 foreign election observers here are being too nosy.

Standing flanked by two medieval suits of armor, Belarus' strongman did not have to remind the opposition that they face obstacles to protesting Sunday's voting. The election takes place on virtually the shortest day of the year. City officials have turned a traditional rallying place, October square, into a skating rink.  Protesters face the prospect of demonstrating in the winter dark, on a vast sheet of black ice.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid