Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus Vote Will Not Be Free or Fair

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Sometimes Western naivete is staggering. On June 15, a U.S. State Department spokesman commented on the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus, declaring them "an important opportunity for Belarus to reverse the process of self-imposed isolation and to begin to restore its proper place in the Euro-Atlantic community."

Spokesman Philip Reeker noted that "many democracy and human rights issues" need to be addressed, including the "unexplained disappearance of opposition political figures over the past two years." Still, he held out hope that "free and fair presidential elections would be an important first step toward addressing these very serious concerns."

Meanwhile, claims that officials close to President Alexander Lukashenko set up an assassination squad in 1996 that has kidnapped and killed more than 30 opponents of the president continue to fly. The United States has granted political asylum to two former investigators with the Belarussian Prosecutor General's Office who fear for their lives after making the accusations public. They reportedly fled Belarus just days before Reeker's call for free and fair elections.

Belarussian authorities have been diligently manipulating the election framework to ensure a Lukashenko victory. They have stacked local elections commissions with lackeys, rejecting representatives of NGOs or of the country's decapitated opposition parties. More than 600 nongovernmental candidates have been put forward for these commissions and all have been turned down.

Further, the Belarussian Central Elections Commission has declared that the campaign will last just three weeks, presenting insurmountable obstacles to candidates opposing Lukashenko — who maintains near-total control over the media. Lukashenko's main opponent, Zyanon Paznyak, must overcome the additional obstacle of running his campaign from exile, having been granted political asylum — in the United States — in 1996.

Finally, Lukashenko and his spokesmen have in recent weeks stepped up their xenophobic ravings, asserting that all opposition to his benevolent dictatorship is directed from abroad. Luckily, the plucky president feels able "to withstand the onslaught" and he "feels nationwide support," according to statements he made during a visit to a Minsk factory on June 14.

In short, it is obvious that — even if it turns out that Lukashenko's opponents were not disappeared by a government death squad, but have simply been on an extended vacation — there can be no credible, free or fair elections in Belarus. The September poll is already a farce and can do nothing to restore Belarus' stature. This petty dictator will remain exactly that — a petty dictator.