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
James Brooke

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.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs