Lukashenko likely to win a fourth term in Belarus

Lukashenko will no doubt win next month in elections in Belarus. He will in all probability win even if he holds a fair and transparent election. Lukashenko is under considerable pressure to do so not just in the west but by Moscow as well.Lukashenko is unpopular in the west and now in Moscow as he has crossed swords with the Kremlin several times even though in the past Russia has been a firm ally.

In the west he is unpopular because he has retained in Belarus many elements of the old Soviet style planned economy. Yet this has not hurt him at all in rural areas where he remains quite popular. In many rural areas of Russia the collapse of the planned economy resulted in ruination for years. However at the same time Lukashenko has also spent years quashing opposition within Belarus another feature of his rule that has riled the west.

Yaroslavl Romanchuk an economist who will challenge Lukashenko for the presidency said:"Much will depend upon one man, who must clarify whether he is in the modernization camp or in the stagnation camp," Romanchuk was clear that he did not expect to win."What will come after the first of January? It will be the second of January," He said with a resigned smile, referring to the day when results of the presidential election are announced. There are 10 candidates running but some may be disqualified by the Central Election Commission. Besides Romanchuk, a former deputy foreign minister and poet Vladimir Neklyayev have the most support according to a recent poll.

None of these opponents are expected to come even close to defeating Lukashenko. A prominent opposition politiciian Pavel Severinets claimed:"Europe is giving the signal that if Lukashenko conducts elections in a significantly freer way, they will deal with him, because they want to drive him away from Moscow," However Washington has called the rule of Luashenko "the last dictatorship in Europe," and he still faces regular accusations of suppressing dissent and jailing opponents. It is hard to see how this is much different from some other countries that the U.S. is able to deal with, without any trouble.

Lukashenko refused to support Russia in its recognition of Georgia's breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia has leverage over Belarus through providing it cheap loans and subsidized oil. Lukashenko used to have excellent relations with Putin but even those have become strained and he does not relate well to Medvedev whom he regards as much too liberal!

The Russian Gazprom owned NTV television has aired a four part documentary attacking Lukashenko and accusing him of repression. Medvedev also wrote on his blog that Lukashenko was failing to maintain "basic human dignity". I did not realize that Russia itself has that spotless a record either! This effort backfired. Whatever they think of Lukashenko the people of Belarus did not take kindly to foreigners castigating their president. The documentaries were banned in Belarus but available on line anyway. The head of a Belarus think tank said:"When the leader of your country is insulted by outsiders, his support increases, regardless of what you think about him. It's support for the country,"

Some think that Russia may seek to break off relations with Belarus and even refuse to recognize the results of the election. They would like a president more willing to go along with Russian policies. However, that could cause Belarus to turn even more to the west. Perhaps all of a sudden Belarus will become a beacon of democracy and Lukashenko a forward looking progressive leader according to western pundits. But then again he may be able to work out difficulties with Russia since these are of utmost importance in terms of the economy of Belarus.


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