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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Has Little to Fear in Belarus Vote

MINSK, Belarus — The fall of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia leaves President Alexander Lukashenko as the last communist-style strongman in Europe.

But as Belarus goes into parliamentary elections this weekend, Lukashenko says his opponents will never succeed in repeating the Yugoslav upheaval and removing him from power.

"The authorities don’t fear the action of the opposition," Lukashenko told the last session of the outgoing parliament Thursday. "There will not be a Yugoslav variant, which our opposition so wants to see."

While inspired by the opposition’s triumph after winning elections in Belgrade, opposition leaders in Belarus have no delusions that Sunday’s elections will be free and fair or will dent Lukashenko’s power.

The West, too, has written off the elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided against sending observers when the Belarus government failed to satisfy its guidelines, which included giving the opposition equal access to television and radio, and allowing it to participate in election commissions. The U.S. State Department said it will not consider the elections legitimate.

After the opposition was denied access to the media and most of its candidates were barred from running on registration technicalities, the opposition called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote.

Yury Khodyko, one of the leaders of the Belarussian Popular Front, the largest opposition party, said the opposition refused to lend legitimacy to elections it believes are unfair.

"If we participated in these elections, we would lose the chance to change the conditions of elections," he said Friday.

Seven opposition parties have received the authorities’ permission for a protest Saturday, but neither side expected it to lead to violence.

Many Belarussians say they know almost nothing about the 567 candidates running for 110 seats. Each of the candidates got just a few minutes on the country’s only television channel, which is state run.

The only indication on the streets of the upcoming elections is a few billboards urging voters to go to the polls. But the billboards are in Belarussian, a language spoken by only 4 percent of the population in this country of 10 million.

"How can I make a decision if I had no access to information about the candidates during the election campaign?" said one young man walking downtown, who refused to give his name. "There is a state monopoly on television — how am I to choose my candidate?"

Ksenia, 40, a television journalist speaking on condition her last name be withheld, said she will vote against all of the candidates.

"I am absolutely sure that these elections are useless because under the circumstances of a dictatorship, they cannot be legitimate," she said.

Nonetheless, the Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Research predicts about 59 percent of the 7 million eligible voters will go to the polls. Some will vote out of habit. But many people in Belarus support Lukashenko, despite his intolerance for dissent.

The government defends the elections, saying Belarus is introducing democracy in its own way.

"We do not deny that we have made certain mistakes, but we are a democracy in the making. … Our elections will be transparent and fair," Prime Minister Vladimir Yermoshin said Friday in an interview.

"The West … wants us to have the kind of democracy, the kind of bloodshed, they have in Moldova, in Georgia, in Armenia," said presidential aide Sergei Posokhov. "We don’t want that kind of democracy. We want our kind of democracy."

The outgoing Belarussian parliament, which was handpicked by Lukashenko after he disbanded the largely pro-opposition parliament in 1996, has little say in how the country is run.

The parliament to be elected Sunday, the opposition says, will be no different.

"Belarus will not have elections, it will have an election farce," said Anatoly Lebedko, who heads the United Civic Party. "And it will not be a parliament but an appendix to Lukashenko’s administration."

He held out no hope Belarussians would rise up in protest this weekend.

"People are not ready to take to the streets and vote Lukashenko out," Lebedko said.

But he and other opposition leaders say that if they can gain enough support, Lukashenko could be swept from power when he comes up for re-election in 2001.

"Of course there is not going to be a revolution this weekend," said Khodyko of the Belarussian Popular Front. "But such a situation may happen during the presidential elections next year."