Belarus still friendless after whitewash election

No progress in Belarus, expert says

The European Union would be making a mistake to alter its policy towards Belarus on the basis of Sunday's elections, an expert has said.

Robin Shepherd, senior research fellow at Chatham House, was commenting after parties opposed to president Alexander Lukashenko failed to take a single seat in parliamentary elections.

Some European ambassadors had been making suggestions behind closed doors that if elections were more open and transparent this might help improve relations with the rest of Europe.

This led Mr Lukashenko, who has previously been described as the "last dictator in Europe" by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, to seek recognition from the west following the poll.

But international observers concluded yesterday the elections fell short of required standards because of failures during the vote count and Mr Shepherd said only "cosmetic improvements" had been registered.

"The result itself is utterly farcical," he said.

"What these results will remind us of is that a deeply authoritarian regime ultimately knows it cannot liberalise without destroying the basis of its own existence. There can be no real political progress in Belarus with Alexander Lukashenko as president."

Belarus' Electoral Commission suggested concerns about the "radical changes" which might result from opposition support led to its failure, but Mr Shepherd said an "atmosphere of fear" was the real reason.

Public opinion is not just difficult to register because many are reluctant to criticise Mr Lukashenko, he explained. A softening in the regime's propaganda against the EU two years ago has also blurred matters.

"[After] the downturn in the relationship with Vladimir Putin's Russia, it's left Belarus looking very isolated. That's why they've tried to open new channels in the west," he continued.

Mr Shepherd said this has underpinned Mr Lukashenko's efforts to court international recognition in Sunday's elections - attempts Mr Shepherd predicts will not succeed.

"I don't see from these elections any change in European policy," he finished.

"You've got 100 per cent vote in terms of seats for Alexander Lukashenko. That's not progress."End of story



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