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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More