The date for Belarus’s presidential elections has been set! December 19. 2010. Everyone mark your calendars, it’s sure to be a literal shitstorm.
Belarus elections are notorious for corruption, intimidation of opposition candidates and questionable landslide victories for the current (and only) sitting president in the country. Belarus has no free press; independent media sources are routinely harassed and censored. Before the date was even set one opposition candidate’s campaign manager was found dead of an apparent suicide.
Let’s meet the players of our action packed drama.
This former collective farm manager turned president is running for his fourth consecutive term in office. He was elected into the BSSR government in 1990. In 1994 he won his first presidential election, and very quickly made huge changes to keep him in power. He had the constitution changed to eliminate term limits, suppressed all independent press in the country and through the KGB intimidated and silenced his opposition to ensure he won every election since then. In Belarus he is called “Batka.” (Papa) The rest of the world calls him “Europe’s last dictator.” The chances of him losing the upcoming election are slim to none.
The candidate for the party “European Belarus” has an impressive political career that goes back to the former Soviet Union. In 1996 he resigned his position in the Belorussian government in protest to the changes Lukashenko strong-armed through to hold power. His main campaign promise is to have Belarus accepted into the EU by 2015. On September 3, 2010, Sannikov’s campaign manager and co-founder of the underground independent news website Charter 97, Aleh Byabenin, was found hanged in his house.
The candidate for “Tell the Truth!” has had his share of problems since indicating his interest in running for president. On May 18th of this year homes and offices of the organization were raided. Computers, books and documents were confiscated. The poet turned politician was arrested and charged with criminal dissemination of false information (they wrote anti-Lukashenko articles and published them, then tried to pass them out to the public) and spent time in jail. He is still facing criminal charges.
Was the first to announce his candidacy to run against Lukashenko. He’s the youngest candidate at the tender age of 35. some of his campaign platform includes the private ownership of land, moratorium on the death penalty, neutrality of Belarus on the international scene, withdrawal from the Union State with Russia, cancellation of nuclear power plant construction, and a ban on the production of fruit wines.
Failed in registering their candidate, Vital Rymashewski for the upcoming elections, are now calling on everyone to boycott the election if they are unable to register.
Candidate from the Liberal Democratic Party. Ran against Lukashenko in 2006. He wants closer ties with Russia, introduce the Russian ruble, and also to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia; something Lukashenko so far has refused to do much to the Kremlin’s displeasure.
There are other candidates running, but very little information about them exists and that’s not an accident. Since only state-approved media are widely available to the public, none of the opposition candidates have any large base of support. Also, the opposition hasn’t been able to come together and support a single candidate to run against Lukashenko.
Now, there is a wild card in this election that has Lukashenko shitting his pants. The Kremlin.
Russia is more or less sick of Lukashenko’s shit. They’ve put up with him for 16 years, entered into the Union State that Lukashenko wanted, and funneled billions of dollars into his Soviet style-regime to keep it running. In return, they get lots of empty promises that are rarely if ever fulfilled. So far Russia has raised the price of oil going into Belarus, had a short-lived gas war in June, and run a number of programs on Russian television that are hit pieces against the President of Belarus. The program is blocked in Belarus, but about 25% of the population does manage to see it, and the programs are available for download and on Youtube. There is also a porn movie in the works where the main character bears a striking resemblance to Lukashenko. Will Russia’s influence in the election have any bearing on whether Lukashenko wins another term? The problem for Russia is none of the other candidates are pro-Russia either. They all favor closer ties to the west and joining the EU. This makes some question whether Russia intends to get some one new in power in Minsk, or just doing a little arm twisting trying to get Lukashenko back in line.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “It’s Belarus, who gives a shit.” And you would be correct to think that. But one man is dead, another has been arrested, another opposition party member’s daughter is in jail for prostitution. Belarus elections are anything but dull or routine. Except for who wins them.