Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Belarus: Acta est Fabula - Plaudite

Election offices had hardly closed in Belarus on Sunday evening, as the chairman of the National Election Committe proclaimed that Lukashenka had got some 90% of votes in the presidential elections. This is utterly ludicrous and makes Lukashenka ever more an object of ridicule. Reality, however, makes one see that this is no laughing matter.

It is quite obvious, that these "preliminary results" was more an act of flattery than "real" figures. All the same, as official results were proclaimed, it turned out that Lukashenka had received an overwhelming 82.6% of votes, as compared to the 6% of his main contender, Milinkevich. Election fraud is too poor a word to describe this. It is simply an outrage of unprecedented character and an indication of how far Lukashenka has entered the realms of megalomania. As for actual results, little is known. The Russian Levada Centre is probably the most correct in attributing Lukashenka some 50% of the votes as opposed to 25% to Milinkevich. As these figures indicate, there is little doubt that Lukashenka, at least presently, would win a free and fair election. So, why cheat? The answer is probably that Lukashenka is so full of himself that he knows no other way than to deceive himself and the populace.

Still, the election campaign has in some ways been quite intriguing. Lukashenka has in an alarmist and high-pitched tone warned for western-supported coup attempts and the likes of it. From the looks of it, this seems like either paranoia or a government-run attempt at gathering further support for Lukashenka by producing an external threat. Let us, however, pause for a moment to hypothesize on other options. Has the regime perceived - instead of pretended - that there was a real threat to their power? If so, there might have been three possible sources of such a threat: domestic opposition within and outside the regime, the West, and Russia.

As for open opposition, claims have been made that Aleksandr Kozulin's candidacy for president was staged by Lukashenka in order to split the opposition and support for its main candidate, Milinkevich. Potential opposition within the regime is much harder to speculate on. Most analysts would probably rule out such a possibility, but at least some of Lukashenka's stooges must realise that this cannot go on forever. Any palace coup might only have succeeded with the support or consent of Moscow. Therefore, if pursuing such an argument, this would mean that Moscow might have considered an alternative to Lukashenka. It is well-known that Putin has met with representatives of the Belarusian opposition, but it is also widely held in Moscow that the option of supporting the opposition has been ruled out as unrealistic. However, one might go on with such speculation by asking whether Kozulin was Moscow's man if things with Lukashenka would have got out of hand. The third option, viz. that of a western threat, is on an equally unrealistic level. Western support would certainly have played a limited role in an overthrow of Lukashenka, just like it did during Ukraine's orange revolution. However, as domestic opposition - in all respects - seems unable to make such a move, such speculation leads nowhere.

It is somewhat noteworthy that opposition protesters on Minsk Oktyabrskaya Square have largely been left in peace by the police so far. That the sit-in already is falling prey to a sort of gradual dispersement by the police is quite obvious. This must however be compared to previous official statements that any unsanctioned protests would be heavily cracked down on and demonstrators tried for terrorism. Is Lukashenka feeling so safe as to allow this or are other factors at play? For now nobody knows, and it will thus be all the more interesting to follow as events evolve.

As for Lukashenka, he might now quote a more august leader: Acta est fabula, plaudite! (the play is over, applaud!), at least for this time. With a little luck, Lukashenka will also face his political death in due course, and there will be little place in history for him. For nobody really believes that Lukashenka will be able to continue indefinitely under the motto: "Together towards a strong and prosperous Belarus!"


Tobias Ljungvall said...

Hi Wilhelm,
I think the Levada figures have gotten insufficient attention. This probably depends on that the Levada Center won't stand by them, since they think the share of respondents who refused to answer their telephone inquiry was too great. This share was, however, no larger than 30 percent, so I still think the figures are worth considering. 20 percent of respondents said they voted for Milinkevich and 33 percent for Lukashenko. Now, if we assume that the main reason why people refused to answer was that they were afraid to admit that they had voted for someone else than Lukashenko, this means that the real results could be rather even between Milinkevich and Lukashenko (or at least betwen Milinkevich plus Kozulin on one hand and Lukashenko on the other) and it certainly does not seem probable that Lukashenko received over 50 percent, which a lot of people simply by inertia seems to assume that he did.
Best regards,
Tobias Ljungvall

PS. Source for the Levada figures: http://www.svaboda.org/articlesfeatures/politics/2006/3/888C6F0B-49D1-4C55-A46F-48D3880E4BDF.html

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Tobias,

Nice to hear from someone who knows what he is talking about as compared to my own dabbling with Belarus. Hopefully, I will learn as I go along. Not least therefore, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Yes, I totally agree with you that the Levada figures have been undeservedly ignored. However, the mere fact that the Levada Center has chosen not to be too public with the figures gives, at least, the Levada Center credit, and makes the figures more credible as they, obviously, have undergone some scrutiny. The figures must, though, be seen more as an indication of what way elections would have gone without election fraud, and the main message is that the opposition would receive stable public support on a scale that bear promises for the future.



W. Shedd said...

I had cited the Levada polls in my own short posting on this topic. Of course, specially appointed police chief Leonid Farmagei stated that there could not be any Levada Center poll because the police had taken many of the pollsters into custody. (!)

As for the ego in exaggerating the margin of victory, and leaving nothing to chance - it is that aspect of slavic culture that requires not just victory, but complete annihilation of the competition. Anything less is a sign of weakness, and seriously discussing or debating a point is seen as something akin to cultural hysteria.

When Lukoshenko was asked why it was necessary to imprison opposition activists, the president answered that the opposition politicians themselves asked to be put in prison before the elections so as not to shame themselves before their Western sponsors.

I can't pretend to be an expert on Belarus, but even I - a humble engineer, know bullshit when I hear it.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Mr. Shedd,

As is quite obvious from, what I take it, are the more correct figures of 47% for Lukashenka and 16% for Milinkevich in the Levada survey, I am neither an expert on Belarus.

As for the logics of society and leadership in this part of the world, we know it all too well, and I am inclined to agree with you on the inclination of leaders to get all the votes. Belarus is, however, not alone in this respect.

Some years back I heard an anecdote about Syrian presidential elections: "Dear president Assad, you got 99,9% of the votes. What more can you wish for? -The names and addresses of the 0,1% that didn't vote for me."

It remains to be seen if something similar will take place in Belarus and to what extent political oppression will increase now.