Azerbaijan Elections Praised, Corruption in Construction Industry, IMF - Belarus State TV Digest

State TV Channel 1 widely covered the presidential elections which recently took place in Azerbaijan. A visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov to Minsk resulted in the signing of a package of agreements. Alexander Lukashenka also made it clear that he would not oppose the Western ambitions of Kiev.

The IMF mission will be monitoring the economic situation of Belarus, but state TV noted that Minsk already appeared to be a trustworthy partner not only for the IMF, but also for other international organisations.

Foreign Affairs

The elections in Azerbaijan: complied with all democratic standards. Belarusian journalists widely reported on recent presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Reporters pointed out that all (unnamed) experts were stating that the current president Ilham Aliyev remained the indisputable leader of the country and the people would re-elect him. Although 10 other opposition candidates took part in the elections, the victory of Aliyev was all but completely assured.

52 thousand observers monitored the elections, including an observatory mission from members of the CIS. Lidzija Jermoshyna, the head of the Central Electoral Committee, headed the Belarusian delegation. Both she and other experts shared the same views on the elections, “they went in compliance with democratic norms, with an exceptionally high turnout of voters”.

Belarusian state TV also showed happy supporters of Aliyev who were glorifying the current president.

It is not surprising that the opposition did not win, TV noted. It just became famous for the scandals during the electoral campaign. None of the opposition politicians presented a clear political programme. In the aftermath of the turbulent 1990s, the Azerbaijani people do not wish to go through the same situation again. All it wants is stability which only the current leader can offer, journalists explained.

Minsk: “Yes” to the integration of Ukraine with the EU. Last week the Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov visited Belarus. Both countries have been closely co-operating over the last years in the sphere of industry, agriculture, energy and transport. Also the trade turnover between Minsk and Kiev, which in 2012 reached $4.5bln, is proof of this growing co-operation. According to Belarusian journalists, this course for co-operation will be continued.

Belarusian authorities sent also a positive message to their Ukrainian colleagues. During the meeting with Azarov, Lukashenka clearly stated that Minsk had no objections against Kiev signing the association agreement with the EU. The whole issue was being politicised, he added. However, apart from the co-operation with the West and its institutions, Ukraine should not close the door on potential integration with the Customs Union.

Domestic affairs

Lukashenka’s dialogue with the Russian media: open and honest. State television reported on the traditional press conference of the head of the state and Russian journalists from over 70 regional media outlets. Several times it emphasized how open and honest the “dialogue” was. This impressed Russian journalists who could not believe how open and honest a leader Lukashenka is.

The Belarusian head of the state pointed out one of his main achievements was formation of a “sovereign and independent Belarus”. Apart from telling jokes, he replied to all questions from social policy to relations with Russia, often in a concise and clever way, according to the state TV report. The Russian journalists expressed their full support for the Belarusian leader.

A warning to officials on utility costs. Lukashenka chaired a meeting on the key aspects of economic and social development of Belarus. He warned officials not to increase the utility costs as a remedy for the state's budget issues. “I will not allow to suffocate the people. And this is not populism”, he added. Increase of the costs should correspond to increase of the salaries.

The head of the state criticised the government for its insufficient work. “And what do we have here: the government is sleeping, then wakes up after a half a year and we should increase the costs by 40%”, Lukashenka continued.

World Hockey Cup: all hands on board. The state channel continues to report on preparations for the international sporting event. This time Lukashenka met with officials to demand from them their maximum effort to make sure the event is as professional as possible. The Cup should become also an economic forum that will bring money to Belarus in the future.

Apart from that, it will be a chance to improve the international image of Belarus. “We should show to the whole world that we are a normal civilised Central-European country”, Lukashenka pointed out. Belarusian journalists reminded viewers that Minsk has already simplified its visa regime system for  foreigners who would come to the event.

Economy

Belarusian investigators: corruption scandals in construction industry. The TV channel reported on shady practices in the construction sector. The whole porblem has brought about a few million USD in losses to the state.

Journalists described how the illegal scheme worked over a period of 7 years. Over the 7 years around 200 illegal houses were constructed. The company was buying old houses and building new ones. Instead of two-bedroom flats, it built houses with more rooms and sold them then for around $300,000 a piece. Now a special working group will investigate the whole issue and find out how these illegal practises were possible and whether any officials supported its operations.

Minsk as a trustworthy partner to the International Monetary Fund. Representatives of the IMF arrived to Belarus to monitor the economic situation of the country. Journalists reported that in 2009-2010 Minsk implemented a stand-by programme supported by a $3.5 bln IMF loan. According to state television, Belarus proved to be a trustworthy partner for the IMF, because it fulfilled all its obligations on time.

Partnership with the IMF remains beneficial for Minsk. The interest rate is relatively low and repayment conditions do not put too much stress on the Belarusian economy. According to the Belarusian TV, further co-operation also could country attract other international organisations and potential investors to Belarus.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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