Lukashenko's second term as president

Lukashenko's original four-year term of office ran out in July 1999 but had been extended to 2001 by the 1996 referendum. Elections were held on 9 September 2001, in which Lukashenko campaigned on a platform broadly similar to that of 1994: retention of the command economy; a full merger with Russia but no Russian-style shock therapy; strong presidential rule to maintain social order; opposition to the enlargement of NATO and to the West generally. His opponent was Uladzimir Hancaryk.

Lukashenko won in the first round in what was claimed to be a landslide victory. However, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the process as 'failing to meet international standards' and human rights organizations reported that opposition supporters were systematically harassed, arbitrarily barred from standing as candidates or voted and were excluded from the state-run media. Western governments also criticised the elections. Russia, by contrast, publicly welcomed Lukashenko's re-election. The price of Russian support for Lukashenko ahead of the presidential elections may have been the surrender of Minsk's control over its section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

Despite widespread criticism, Lukashenko dismisses concerns about his authoritarian style of government, claiming it to be the only alternative to instability. He promotes himself as a 'man of the people'. Due to his style of rule, Lukashenko is often informally referred to as backa, literally translated as 'father', but the word has the meaning of 'chieftain' in the history of the Slavic peoples. He has appointed himself chairman of the Belarusian Olympic Committee, despite the IOC rules precluding high state officials from holding such a post.

During a televised address to the nation on 7 September 2004 Lukashenko announced plans for a referendum on whether to eliminate presidential term limits. This was held on 17 October 2004, the same day as parliamentary elections, and according to official results was approved by 79.42% of voters. Previously, Lukashenko had been limited to two terms and thus would have been constitutionally required to step down after the next presidential election, now held on 19 March 2006.

It has been claimed that state pro-Lukashenko TV channels transmitted pro-Lukashenko propaganda and election day polls at midday on October 17, although Belarusian law prohibits this. The opposition and international observers (except for several CIS monitors) said that the vote was fraudulent. The OSCE mission said it "fell significantly short of international standards". An exit poll survey performed by Baltic Surveys, a Lithuanian Gallup Organization, showed that only 48% of people voted 'yes' on Lukashenko's referendum, with a margin of error of 1%. On the other hand, this poll is probably skewed, since the majority of Lukashenko supporters are in the countryside, and the poll was performed by a relatively small team, initially 200, but a significant number were banned from polling by the authorities.

In January 2006, Lukashenko announced that there would be no repeat of the Ukrainian and Georgian scenarios, the so-called 'colored revolutions' that brought changes of government in both countries. Since the end of 2005, the government in Belarus has been introducing changes to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to equip the authorities to further curtail the activities of the political opposition and all civil society groups.

One of many new laws includes an article whereby anyone who organizes or participates in the activities of a suspended or liquidated organization could face a fine and be imprisoned from six months to three years. Earlier in 2005, parliament adopted a number of amendments to laws on public associations and political parties that further strengthened state control over non-governmental organizations.

The 2006 presidential election campaign has been marred by the arrest of over 300 opposition activists. On 2 March 2006, Alyaksandr Kazulin, presidential candidate for a social democratic party, Narodnaya Hramada, was beaten and detained when he tried to register with a group of supporters for a government-organized rally in Minsk. A number of prominent opposition activists are currently serving prison sentences or have had their freedom restricted because of their political activities.

The interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission details harassment of opposition campaigns, and civil society activists, including detentions and seizure of materials.

See also:

2. Lukashenko's first term as president
Lukashenko's victory in 1994 came as a surprise to many in Belarus and abroad, given his youth and lack of experience.Lukashenko's victory in 1994 came as a surprise to many in Belarus and abroad, giv 16 March, 2006

3. Lukashenko's early career
Lukashenko was born in the village of Kopys in the Vitebsk voblast of what was then the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.Lukashenko was born in the village of Kopys in the Vitebsk voblast of wha 16 March, 2006

4. Who is Lukashenko?
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko was born on 30 August 1954. He is the current President of Belarus.Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko (Russian: Александр Григорьевич Лукаше 16 March, 2006

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