Editorial: Three Election Controversies
The 2015 presidential election in Belarus revealed three important controversies for the authorities, the opposition and the West.
First, the Belarusian authorities want to look more democratic to the West without allowing any real changes inside the country.
Second, the opposition has the difficulty of wanting to play a role in the political process in Belarus but at the same time without legitimising the fraudulent election process.
Third, the desire of the West to engage more with Belarus clashes with its commitment to the principles of human rights and democracy.
As with most controversies, the best practical outcome is a compromise, which usually leaves none of the parties completely satisfied.
The Belarusian authorities allowed the opposition to conduct a relatively free campaign and refrained from brutal repression similar to the 2010 post-election crackdown. However, they persisted in abusing the early voting process and largely prevented observers from watching the vote count, as the preliminary report of a mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe suggests.
Western observers appreciated the peaceful nature of the election campaign but concluded that the election process was far from being fair and democratic. Nonetheless, the European Union is all set to suspend sanctions against most of the individuals and companies, which will be a reward for the "peacefulness" of the Belarusian authorities and the release of all political prisoners in September.
These developments have opened the door for a more meaningful cooperation between the West and Belarus not only on political, but also on economic issues. The Belarusian authorities particularly need economic help because of the deteriorating Russian economy, which is the main supporter of the Belarusian regime. The West will have another chance to test whether the policy of engagement yields more results than the policy of sanctions.
The Belarusian opposition reached the election deeply divided between those who wanted to engage with the system in order to use all opportunities which the election period provides and those who wanted to boycott the election. The engagement camp managed to assemble many protest votes behind a new personality, presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich. However, she is unlikely to become a uniting figure for the opposition.
Ironically, this time the non-democratic election may bring Belarus closer to the West because of the removal of sanctions. However, any optimism about Belarus turning West is misplaced. The Belarusian president will be careful not to cross the red lines drawn by Russia. Although Lukashenka feels uncomfortable in the shadow of Russia, he understands that this is the only game in town if he wants to stay in power.
Time will show how long Belarus will remain a country without political prisoners and free from sanctions. It is also too early to say whether we will see a repeat of the vicious sanctions-engagement circle or the West will manage to develop and implement a long-term strategy towards Belarus.
Belaruspolicy.com, Elections, Alexievich – Ostrogorski Centre Digest
The Ostrogorski Centre, the organisation behind Belarus Digest, starts publishing regular updates about its activities, including new projects, and comments by its analysts.
During the the first half of October Belarus saw two major events: the presidential elections and the first ever Nobel prize awarded to Svetlana Alexievichin literature.
Volha Charnysh shows how the Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich is perceived in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and reveals how the authorities manipulated the early voting procedure to get the right result.
In his analysis of Belarus elections, Ryhor Astapienia concludes that despite the predictability of presidential elections and unfair vote counts, its results may indicate a significant drop in public support for Aliaksandr Lukashenka. David Marples and Uladzimir Padhol analyze the conduct of independent opinion polls in Belarus.
- On 1 October, the Ostrogorski Centre in partnership with the Belarus Research Council launched the belaruspolicy.com database. The database features policy papers produced by Belarusian think tanks. Currently the database contains around 250 papers prepared by 15 organisations with short summaries in Belarusian, Russian and English.
- A Delegation of the Ostrogorski Centre, including Yaraslau Kryvoi, Ryhor Astapienia, Alieś Aliachnovič and Vadzim Smok, took part in the Fifth International Congress of Belarusian Studies, the largest Belarusian annual academic and expert event with a focus on social sciences and humanities.
- On 9 – 12 October, Belarus Digest provided live online coverage of the presidential elections in Belarus and international and domestic reactions to it.
Comments for the Media
- Ryhor Astapenia writes about the situation before the election in Belarus for Carnegie Europe
- Yaraslau Kryvoi took part in a BBC Russian service programme dedicated to the presidential elections in Belarus (in Russian)
- Siarhei Bohdan comments for Frankfurter Rundschau on the possible establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus (in German)
- Vadzim Smok comments on the situation around the Belarusian elections to the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish)
- Yaraslau Kryvoi, Igar Gubarevich and Vadzim Smok were interviewed by the correspondent of Danish newspaper Jullands Posten on the developments around the presidential elections in Belarus
- Devin Ackles on opendemocracy.net writes about the opportunity of Belarus to come out of isolation after the presidential elections.
- Igar Gubarevich talks to Radyjo Racyja (Poland) about current Belarusian foreign policy (in Belarusian)
- Siarhei Bohdan discusses with Polish Radio the situation with a possible Russian airbase in Belarus (in Belarusian)
- Yaraslau Kryvoi commented on Belarus's presidential elections for Lithuania Public Radio (in Lithuanian)
- Alies Aliakhnovich explaines to Polish Radio why economic reforms are inevitable for the Belarusian authorities (in Belarusian)
- Yaraslau Kryvoi and Igar Gubarevich discussed the presidential elections on Czech Radio (in Czech)
- Siarhei Bohdan participates in a discussion at tut.by media portal about the conflict in Syria, its repercussions for Belarus and changes in Belarusian foreign policy caused by wars in the Middle East (in Belarusian/Russian).
- BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following personalities: Aliaksandr Filipaŭ, Miraslaŭ Kobasa, Ina Ramašeŭskaja, Aliena Tankačova, Anton Boltačka, Aliaksej Pikulik, Uladzimir Dunajeŭ, Tacciana Vadalžskaja, Aksana Šeliest, Anatoĺ Pańkoŭski.
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