Democracy Belarus style

BY THE time you read this, Belarus would have elected its new leader. It?s a different matter altogether how free and fair that election would be. The United States and European Union have expressed serious reservations about the electoral exercise. The White House has gone to the extent of condemning the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, as one of the "most corrupt leaders in the world."

It?s hard to disagree with the US view. He indeed is one of the most ruthless and authoritarian leaders in the mould of former East European-Soviet leaders. He has already threatened to "crush" any attempt to stage a popular revolt ? a la Ukraine ? in Belarus. No wonder opposition parties are concerned about the outcome of this deeply divisive vote. President Lukashenko?s opponents have alleged widespread poll rigging by the regime. Opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich has even predicted that the manipulation by the authoritarian regime could lead to a 70 per cent and plus vote for President Lukashenko. Which wouldn?t be really surprising considering this government has detained scores of opposition candidates and their supporters and kept out foreign poll observers.

True to the traditions of authoritarian regimes in this part of the world ? they go a long way back ? President Lukashenko brooks no show of dissent. In the run-up to the vote, he repeatedly warned his opponents that the regime would not tolerate any attempt at a ?coup? and vowed to "break the neck" of anyone trying to seize power from him. His minions in the administration have resolved to treat those ?trying to destablise the situation? (read opposition) as terrorists threatening them with death penalty!

What kind of democracy is this? Honestly speaking, this is anything but democracy, as we know it. What democracy has its leader promising to break his opponent?s neck like a street thug? What kind of ?free and fair? election are we talking about when opposition candidates are threatened with death and election observers are not allowed inside the country, let alone near a polling station?

Democracy is all about people?s choice. More importantly, voters should be able to make this choice free of all pressure ? both carrot and stick kind. Democracy and force never go together. This election, and its almost certain outcome, therefore doesn?t qualify as free and fair. And it should be acknowledged as such by the international community.

For far too long, President Lukashenko, who is seeking a third term, has run Belarus like a large prison with blessings from his friend Vladimir Putin in the neighbouring Russia. It?s time for the people of Belarus to shake off this stranglehold of a corrupt tyrant.