Suspicious 'Clean Sweep' for Lukashenko in Belarus Elections

by Chris Coats

With supporters claiming all of the country's 110 house of representative seats, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will retain support for his office, which he has held since 1994.

"An Electoral Farce"

Reporting a 75 percent voter turnout, the Belarus government announced that Lukashenko won a decisive victory without a single gain among the 70 opposition leaders running for office, the Times reported.

Despite claims of openness and fair elections, Lukashenko is being accused by international observers and critics in the West of manipulating the election results to favor only those politicians loyal to his rule.

While he allowed 450 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to observe the election, the entity reported that they had been banned from more than a third of the country's polling places.

Issuing a report on the elections, the OSCE stated that the voting process was "generally well conducted, but the process deteriorated considerably during the vote count."

According to the BBC, the relative openness by Lukashenko appeared to be part of a larger effort to legitimize the long-standing Belarus leader in the eyes of the European Community, who banned the country from entering the European Union after it was revealed that a presidential election had been rigged in 2006.

The Guardian reported that Lukashenko, after voting, said, "If the election goes smoothly, the west will recognize Belarus."

Following a series of crackdowns on opposition leaders in the city of Minsk in 2006, which included a reported 500 arrests, EU and U.S. leaders instituted a series of "smart sanctions" against Lukashenko and members of his administration, according to the Independent.

In an effort to improve his image abroad and strengthen the chances of Belarus being accepted into the European Union, Lukashenko hired Lord Timothy Bell, a public relations manager from England who has worked on behalf of Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet.

Under Lord Bell's guidance, Lukashenko has launched a series of public relations efforts in hopes of improving his image, including the release of 70 opposition leaders from prison, increasing his accessibility to the public and initiating a soccer match between England and Belarus as a part of the selection tour of the World Football Championship.

Lukashenko also reportedly allowed opposition candidates to run against his party supporters, though they have repeatedly charged that they were banned from the state television station and were not allowed to observe polling stations.

However these PR efforts appear to have fallen short of improving Lukashenko's image in light of the lopsided election results, with the BBC reporting that opposition leaders called the blowout an "electoral farce for the West."

While the election results were largely repudiated across Europe as falling short of international standards, local reaction was mostly muted, with just 500 opposition protestors taking to the streets of Minsk to voice their complaints.

National opposition leaders have charged that Lukashenko has little interest in actually allowing counter voices to be heard and allowed other parties to participate in the election to improve his image in the West and open trade with the EU and Russia.

Belarus's relationship with the EU has recently received more attention due in part to the actions of Russia, who have begun to exert influence over its former Soviet state neighbors, including the Ukraine, and most recently, Georgia, according to the Telegraph.

These efforts to reopen official communications between the EU and Lukashenko's Belarus have reportedly caused concern in Moscow.

Reference: Alexander Lukashenko

First elected to office in 1994, Lukashenko is a former farm manager who campaigned on a platform of economic reform and closer ties to Russia. Lukashenko has advocated an authoritarian style of government as the alternative means instability. BBC provides a comprehensive biography of Lukashenko.



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