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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pork Pulls Sleepy Belarus Electorate

MINSK, Belarus -- What do you do when you are running for president in a country not known for electorial enthusiasm? The six presidential candidates in sleepy Belarus' first democratic elections believe they have found the answer: Reach deep into the pork barrel. Turnout on Thursday was unexpectedly high. But the Belarus Central Election Committee was so concerned about voters staying away that it scheduled elections on a weekday instead of a Sunday to prevent electors opting for their dachas over democracy. Candidates have done their part to help coax people to the polling booth. Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich this week offered pensioners 60,000 Belarussian rubles ($2.40) for voting, according to the official government newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussia. Kebich, the leading candidate in the polls, has also been the leader in the pork department, freezing prices on staple goods prior to the vote and promising heavy subsidies to industry and farmers if he wins. His offer of 60,000 Belarussian rubles, called zaichiki, while not a princely sum, means a lot to pensioners struggling to get by on 200,000 zaichiki a month in a country where the average salary is a mere 500,000 zaichiki. Stanislav Shushkevich, former parliament chairman, went a step further than Kebich, guaranteeing everyone salaries of between $100 and $150 per month. This idea may be popular, but Shushkevich's proposed plan to finance it is not: He wants to create a state monopoly on alcohol, something which might be hard for this vodka-thirsty country to swallow. If Alexander Lukashenko is elected, neither Shushkevich nor Kebich will be around to carry out their promises. Lukashenko has vowed, as his first decree as president, to put Kebich and Shushkevich behind bars for alleged corruption. With decree No. 2, Lukashenko promises to give everyone a home and, with No. 3, a job. Nationalist leader Zenon Poznyak has also felt the populist pull, but on a much grander scale. He promises to eliminate Belarus' dependence on Russia's oil and gas by creating a Baltic-Black Sea fuel conduit. Then Poznyak would charge Russia $6 billion for the use of westbound pipelines on Belarussian soil. One complication in this scheme would be that the stretch of pipeline running through Latvia to the Baltic Sea would have to be reversed so that Belarus could receive fuel. Poznyak says Latvia is ready to do this, but the world may never find out. In the likely event of a second-round runoff election set for July, the Central Election Committee fears fewer than the required 50 percent of Belarus' 7.3 million voters will turn out, no matter what they are promised. If that happens, no one will be elected president. That would deprive Communist leader Vasily Novikov of a chance to fulfil his campaign promise of eliminating the "bourgeois" office of the presidency.