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CSTO: What ya gonna do when they come for you?

Posted by democratist on August 16, 2011

August 16th 2011,

According to yesterday’s Russia Profile, leaders of the post-soviet states that make up the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have recently been banging their heads together at a summit in Astana, in an attempt to avoid the revolutionary fates which have befallen some of their colleagues in the middle East.

As such, while CSTO has, since its creation in 1992 been essentially limited to a collective security set-up for Russia and the six states over which it retains some degree of hegemony (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), it is now beginning to take on an additional hue, seeking to collectively prevent the political destabilization of member state regimes.

Discussion has centered on the following suggestions;

Firstly, it looks like the future for Twitter, Facebook and other potentially “destructive” social media is looking somewhat dicey in CSTO countries, as they seek to create an “impregnable wall” to shut out colour revolutions (although whether this means regulation, a total ban, or rather just switching these sites off during periods of unrest remains to be decided).

Secondly, external military intervention by a shared Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) to prevent revolution in CSTO states has also been mooted, principally by embattled, but newly Russia-friendly Belarusian President (and current CSTO chair) Alyaksandr Lukashenka. However, this approach looks less plausible as part of a CSTO-wide strategy, since few of the other leaders trust their colleagues enough to give them a pretext for invasion.

With regard to social media, from Democratist’s perspective, despite the wailings of Russia Today and other propagandists, the revolutions in the middle East have not been the work of outside forces, a “CIA plot,” or other self-serving conspiracy tripe, but rather an inevitable result of the internal economic and social development and contradictions of Middle Eastern states, combined with popular attraction towards an ideal manifested externally (the relative political and economic success of a growing ”core” of democratic countries).

All seven CSTO states are likely to face a growth in similar pressures over the coming years, which may be exacerbated by renewed global downturn. However, regulation of the internet is unlikely to make much difference; it is technically difficult to pull off effectively over lengthy periods, and in any case many alternative sources of information already exist (or can be created) in terms of satellite TV, shortwave radio, and the circulation of books, periodicals and newspapers.

Additionally, such restrictions are likely to act as a yet another reminder to the populations of these countries of the repression to which they are subject. Nor is the internet decisively important as a tool for revolutionary organization (as we are now witnessing in Syria). It is certainly useful, but plenty of revolutions took place before internet age, and will surely continue to do regardless of whether populations have access to the internet, mobile phones or other devices.

However, Lukashenka’s position is more proximately precarious than those of other CSTO leaders, and gives some indication of a possible future scenario in Belarus if things were to go seriously awry. Moscow is keen to maintain control of Belarusian energy transit and oil refineries, and Lukashenka has been forced to the table by internal political and economic developments. In our estimation, the Russians would almost certainly be willing to use military force to ensure control rather than risk the emergence of a less pliable government in the event that Belarus entered into a period of serious internal unrest.

Posted in Belarus, Central Asia, CSTO, Revolutions, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Alexander Lukashenko – Free Speech Advocate.

Posted by democratist on May 8, 2011

8th May 2011,

Democratist is currently traveling in the CIS and his limited internet access, and therefore limited scope to inform the world of our myriad brilliant insights.

Nonetheless, one short piece has caught our eye, which we think shines a little light on the current situation in Belarus, and which we would like to share with our esteemed readers.

As such, we reproduce in full this short article of two days ago from that impartial and internationally respected, if generally undervalued Belarusian news organ, Telegraf;

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“One can’t Shut People’s Mouth, Lukashenko

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes that no one may interfere with one’s free expression of personal point of view.

This was stated by the Head of State on May 6 at the meeting on the progress of investigation into the Minsk Subway explosion on April 11.

“I have received information that some of our bureaucrats are trying to shut the people’s mouth. One should no way let it happen,” he said.

“Everyone, having worked out his working hours, has the right to express personal views in certain places, at home, for instance, like in a real democratic state, and nobody has the right to interfere with this,” BelTA quoted Alexander Lukashenko.

“If a person violates the law, he must answer for this to the fullest extent.

If we start crushing people, we won’t be understood,” said President of Belarus.”

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So, all is now clear.  If you thought Lukashenko was some kind of despot, you were quite wrong: Every citizen of Belarus has the right to say whatever they want – provided (following the best Soviet tradition) they confine their democratic exuberance to their own kitchens.

Posted in Belarus | Leave a Comment »

Belarus 2010: How they cheated.

Posted by democratist on February 14, 2011

14th February 2010,

The Belarusian domestic nonpartisan election monitoring NGO,  Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections has just released their Final Report on the 19th December 2010 elections.

This is an excellent report, that gives considerable detail on the techniques used by the regime to rig the polls (which broadly match our predictions). You can link to it here, or read Democratist’s short summary below.

The main points are;

  • The necessary foundation for democratic elections, in particular regarding the real independence and balance of the election authorities, vote count procedures and effective complaints and appeals process, was not established.
  • 2009 census data provides an indication that 300-350,000 persons who have the right to vote were not included on the voter lists, and that the real number of eligible voters in Belarus during the election should have been 7.4-7.45 million.
  • The complete dominance of state broadcast and printed media by the incumbent, especially during the last two weeks of the campaign period, disadvantaged other opposition candidates who were either not mentioned, or were portrayed in an overwhelmingly negative light.
  • The majority of the national observers were representatives of NGOs and political parties loyal to the regime. Their task was to interfere with activities of independent national observers and journalists. No single complaint has been lodged by these observers, or any election observation report released.
  • The authorities used state administrative resources to coerce voters, especially students and state employees, to vote early. Observers experienced numerous obstacles during early voting, including denial of accreditation and withholding of information on the registration figures.
  • A high number of reported irregularities concerned the inclusion of voters into the list for mobile voting. As a rule, voters were added to the special voter list based on their age and the geographical distance from the polling station (especially in rural areas) rather than at the request of the voter. In many polling stations, the number of mobile voters was disproportionate, i.e. up to 30%.
  • The vote count was carried out in a non-transparent manner. Though most of the observers were allowed to observe the vote count, in most cases the distance from which they were allowed to watch did not allow them to view the content of ballot papers.
  • It is impossible to say whether the ballots in the ballot boxes at the moment the vote count started were the same ballots which were cast by the voters themselves, because during early voting and mobile voting, members of election commissions (which were not independent or pluralistic) and unauthorized persons had access to relevant ballot boxes in absence of observers or other witnesses, and the way the ballot boxes were designed and sealed did not provide an adequate safeguard against potential manipulation.
  • Peaceful conduct of the election was marred on the evening of election day, 19 December, when riot police brutally dispersed participants of a mass demonstration who came to Nezalezhnasci Square in Minsk to protest against unfair conduct of the election. By the morning of 20 December, about 700 persons were detained, including seven presidential candidates. Many of those detained were beaten, including three presidential candidates. At the time of the report’s release, four presidential candidates and 31 of their supporters were in pre-trial detention facilities and under house arrest. They are charged with organization of a mass riot or participation in it.

Posted in Belarus, Domestic NGOs, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights | Leave a Comment »

The Egyptian Revolution and the Precariousness of Modern Autocracy.

Posted by democratist on January 29, 2011

29th January 2011,

Some of the less perceptive among Democratist’s readers might be forgiven for believing that the US has been caught off-guard by the revolt in Egypt, and that events there have been given much of their impetus by the example of the similar uprising in Tunisia a couple of weeks ago.

Certainly that is the impression one might have garnered from the lack of US government public statements on the subject until yesterday, and an evident unwillingness to abandon long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in Obama’s statement late last night, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that the writing is on the wall.

But if you thought that the Americans had been caught short, you’d be wrong, because in fact it was the CIA that planned and has directed the uprising in Egypt all along - at least according to Russia Today.

Since late last night, RT has been claiming that recently released Wikileaks cables reveal that the US has been plotting to overthrow Mubarak for “at least three years” and that they, “show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising.”

Curiously, RT does not include a link to these documents on their website, so Democratist decided to have a look for ourselves…

It turns out that the extent of the “US plotting” (according to the Telegraph article that broke the story) was that the US Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a  summit for activists in New York in December 2008, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police.

A couple of days after his return, when this individual claimed that Egyptian opposition forces were drawing up a plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, US Ambassador Scobey (unsurprisingly) questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed.

Scobey’s reaction (like Obama’s statement yesterday) and the wealth of other Wikileaks documents that repeatedly underscore  the deep and enduring political and military relationship between the US and the Mubarak regime over the last 30 years suggest a rather different story to that put forward by Russia Today; one where the US has attempted to balance the realpolitik support of an important if nasty autocratic ally with a comparatively limited liberal policy of help for moderate oppositionists. Subsequently, it is apparent that the Americans did not expect their democratization projects to have any significant impact over the short-term, and have been caught largely unprepared by the recent rioting.

So why has RT suddenly decided that what is happening in Egypt is a CIA-backed coup?

The answer is simple; just as in Georgia and Ukraine, from the perspective of the nomenklatura, any major popular democratic uprising has to be presented to the Russian people (and by extension the world at large) as part of an “American plot”, because what has to be avoided at all costs is the idea that people might actually be able to think for themselves.

As long as it’s all the CIA’s fault, that’s OK. But if people in other countries can overthrow oppressive regimes, then the Russians might slowly wake up to the idea that they might one day do the same thing – and that would never do.

Russia Today’s position reveals the precariousness of modern autocracy; the Egyptian revolt highlights that, while the last few years may have been witness to some democratic reversals in the CIS (Ukraine, Belarus), on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last sixty years) demonstrate the growing potency of the democratic ideal, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in the most unexpected places, and despite the United States perceived hypocrisy on this issue.

Over the long-term the nomenklatura has much to fear from this trend, and it is therefore unsurprising their apologists make every effort to explain it away as renewed Western imperialism. In turn, the US and EU have much to gain; but only if they make clear through their actions as well as words that, in addition to the necessary realist policies, they are willing to recognize and support the democratic aspirations of people throughout the region, and indeed the world wherever possible.

Posted in Belarus, Egyptian Revolution, Orange Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

Belarus 2010: An “internal matter.”

Posted by democratist on December 20, 2010

December 21st 2010.

Democratist is disappointed and upset, but not especially surprised to learn of the results and fallout of yesterday’s presidential election in Belarus.

Since the signing of a series of economic agreements earlier this month, the Russians appear to have decided, in the words of Prime Minister Putin that “the Belarusian leadership has taken a clear course towards integration with Russia,” and suitably mollified, their desire for Lukashenko’s ouster has fallen by the wayside - for the moment at least.

Subsequently, reading between the lines of the OSCE’s sensibly diplomatic preliminary statement (which nonetheless provoked the ire of the newly confident Lukashenko), it appears that it was business as usual for the Belarusian electoral administration over the last few days, and the incumbent has been returned to office with just under 80% of the vote, according to the highly questionable official results.

Subsequently, seven of the nine opposition candidates that stood against Lukashenko have been arrested (including one who was dragged from his hospital bed after a police beating) along with 600 of the several thousand protestors brave enough to demonstrate against this charade of an election in Minsk last night.

While the Belarusian authorities have behaved abominably in both their conduct of the election, and the violent crackdown that has followed it, the reaction of the Russian government has served to underline their own extraordinary cynicism, and more specifically, Dimitry Medvedev’s real attitude towards the democratic process to which he paid so much rhetorical homage earlier this year.

According to Reuters, when asked, Medvedev described the Belarusian elections as an “internal matter,” and did not comment on the police crackdown.  He is quoted as saying, “I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours.”

And for all its “strong condemnation” of the fraud and violence, and demands that the opposition candidates be freed, the West is left looking weak and ineffectual, with Lukashenko and the Russians the only game in town.

For the time being then, it seems that Belarus will only change when Russia changes its mind about Lukashenko. However, real support for democratization in Belarus (or indeed Russia) in Moscow is lacking, and will continue to be so, regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev wins in 2012.

Posted in Belarus, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization | 5 Comments »

Belarus 2010: Electoral coercion and fraud techniques.

Posted by democratist on December 11, 2010

12th November 2010,
Electoral coercion means pressuring people to vote for your prefered candidate. Electoral fraud is the falsification of results.  Both techniques have been used extensively in Belarus, and both are facilitated by a deliberately opaque legal context.
 As is generally the case, the election administration in Belarus follows a pyramid structure.
At the top is the Central Election Commision (CEC). This is based in Minsk, and is responsible for overall control of the election process.
The next layer is composed of the 155 Territorial Electoral Commsions (TECs) . The TECs work at the regional level, and are responsible for organizing the work of the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) and for the preparation of the voter lists.
Lastly, there are the 6346 Precinct Electoral Commisions (PECs). These are essentially the committees which run the polling stations. The PEC staff  will be directly in charge of organizing the vote and vote count on election day.
Elections in Belarus at the regional (TEC) and polling station (PEC) levels tend to be run by the same cadre of people in successive elections. Some Belarusian NGO’s have claimed that, for these forthcoming elections, up to 80% of the members of the current TECs have served in previous elections.
Officially, TEC staff are drawn from different political parties and from “civil society”. Ultimately however, local administrations decide upon the nominations, usually appointing regime loyalists from among their own ranks (and from other state bodies, including state enterprises) in a process which is both informal and unaccountable.
As such, only 14 of the 200o TEC members for the forthcoming Presidential elections have been selected from representatives of opposition parties (0.7%). This means that the opposition is only represented on 14 of a total of 155 TECs, leaving the other 141 regional bodies with no representation from the opposition at all.
At the PEC level (i.e. in the polling stations) a total of 183 candidates from opposition parties have been permitted to serve. This means that opposition members will be represented in less than 3% of all PECs.
The large majority of domestic Belarusian election observers are also essentially appointees from the ranks of the nomenklatura, and genuinely independent observers are fairly rare.
So opposition or independent presence within the election administration is almost negligible. And whilst the appointment process for these elections was conducted in line with national legislation (which is deliberately vague), the resulting TECs and PECs are not impartial or unbiased, and the interrelationship between the local administrative structures and the Territorial Electoral Commisions especially, is at the core of how electoral coercion is managed in Belarus.
How is this achieved in practice?
Firstly, the regime can abuse its huge influence and monopoly of power within local administrations to both ensure a good turnout, and encourage or coerce individuals to vote for the incumbent.
The local administration does this by abusing its control over resources such as jobs, equipment and education.
In this regard, employees of state enterprises (who make up about5o% of the workforce in Belarus), may be brought into a meetings with their managers, and told that their jobs might be on the line if the President is not re-elected. The many people who work for local authorities (hospitals, clinics, water, roads, sanitation) will receive similar talks from the mayor or another senior figure. Collective farm workers will be told that, if they vote “the wrong way,” the collective farm will not provide them with agricultural vehicles for the harvest, or will not provide feeding stuff for animals. Soldiers will be told that they will not be granted leave, or they will face other sanctions.  University staff and students will be threatened with expulsion.
It is to be noted that those voting will typically be afraid that the authorities have the ability to find out who they voted for by checking the ballots cast against counterfoils (regardless of whether this actually happens).
As an example of this kind of coercion, the Belarusian  “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” NGO recently noted the use of these so called “administrative resources” in order to ensure mass early voting:
During a meeting at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, Rector Mikhail Batura is quoted as having stated;
“We have a great upcoming political event, the presidential election. I cannot ignore the issue. I urge you all to take part in this election. Moreover, I even advise you on the candidate for whom to vote. This is the incumbent head of the state, because everything good that was done in this country was achieved in the years of his presidency. Therefore, I urge you all to take part in the election….We have always encouraged our students to go to early voting…Therefore, early voting will be held from December 13, and I urge you to take part in it.”
So those are all ways of using local authority influence as a means of electoral coercion.
Secondly, the fact that Belarus allows for “early voting” for a five-day period between 14th-18th December (during which typically 30% of the total number of votes will be cast), and that this takes place before most international observers have arrived in area, has in the past facilitated ballot-box stuffing, because the ballot boxes remain under the protection of polling station staff outside voting hours during the early voting period, and this has made it easy for senior PEC staff to cast additional votes for the incumbent after the polling has closed, as well as falsify signatures on the voter register to legitimize these votes.
It is to be noted that the CEC has recently changed the law to make this practice harder (for example, ballot boxes are to be sealed at the end of each day) but the extent to which the change in the rules will be followed on the ground, and the possibility of working around these changes remains to be seen. For example, one way to work around such changes would be to stuff mobile ballot boxes, which officially exist to provide the old and infirm with the opportunity to vote. These individuals are unlikely to complain that their vote has been stolen because they are vulnerable fear retribution. If they do complain, this will not be covered in the official media.
Additionally, in the past, international observers have not been permitted to watch the counting of votes too closely, and are forced to sit at a distance that makes it hard for them to see the marks on the ballots (again the CEC has apparently passed a resolution to allow then to observe more closely this time).
In a more obvious form of fraud during the count, especially when international or other independent observers are not present, in some cases the “wrong” ballot papers can simply be torn and thrown away, and the “right” ones filled in and added, since PECs possess spare ballots which can be used for this purpose.
Furthermore, in 2006 the OSCE reported that, in a number of instances, the completed election results forms were filled in using pencil (which can of course be changed later).
In conclusion, the Belarusian electoral administration is designed to facilitate voter coercion and fraud in order to return the incumbent.  Over the last weeks this system appears to be working towards fulfilling that goal as per normal. It is therefore likely that, even though Lukashenko apparently now has less than 50% support according to independent polls, he will be returned to the Presidency with more than 75% of votes in the first round. Future political developments will depend on how the population choses to react to this in the days following the announcement of the official results.

Posted in Belarus, Electoral Fraud | 4 Comments »

Belarus 2010: Another view.

Posted by democratist on December 3, 2010

3rd December 2010,

Democratist has been discussing the prospect of Lukashenko being overthrown by the Russians in the  upcoming 19th December 2010 Presidential elections in detail with one of our many very clever, anonymous friends.

He writes;

“I suspect it [overthrow] is not as easy as some would like to hope. The information war has produced a lot of noise but has limited impact in Belarus itself. There is no clear Kremlin candidate in the administration who could mount an internal Russia-backed palace coup – the siloviki are pretty much linked to Lukashenko junior (Viktor) now and the technocrats are allegedly more and more ‘economic nationalists’ who liked subsidised energy but fear an influx of Russian business interests. The Kremlin lobby in the elites was pretty much purged in the mid-naughties. Tacitly fostering a violent overthrow, as some claim was the case in Kyrgyzstan earlier in the year is pretty much a non-starter (despite some of the cries from the national democratic opposition ranks). So far Russia has not particularly reached out to the opposition, although the leading candidates like Nekliaev, Sannikov and Romanchuk are the least anti-Russian (compared to the likes of the Popular Front and Christian Democrat candidates who seem to have rather low poll ratings so far).

Maybe if there are some big (by Belarusian standards) public protests after the election they might seek to help ferment them somehow. Despite all the talk of Russia not recognising the election results, I get the feeling they are not actually going to go that far. Obviously there is economic pressure, but it might require a step change from just charging market rates for energy to actively blockading or introducing sanctions against Belarus. Also Russia is entering her own election cycle in 2011-2012 – what are the risks in destabilising a ‘fraternal’ neighbour? I don’t think there will be a quick fix which sees Russia able to get rid of Lukashenko within a year or so, they probably need to nurture ties with potential forces/allies in the longer term or towards the next election cycle.

There is lots of chatter that the economic situation over the next 18-24 months as Russian tightens the screws will precipitate the endgame for Lukashenko – but similar predictions were being made in 2007 and 2004. However, Lukashenko’s room for manoeuvre is narrowing and the traditional game of muddling through is getting increasingly difficult to play. He has always been a consummate politician when it came to exploiting the little leverage he had over Russia – e.g. threats to withdraw from regional bodies such as the CSTO or SES could be embarrassing for the Kremlin (Russia’s closest ally turns against her?). The end of socio-economic stability was supposed to see the collapse of support for Lukashenko within the ruling elites and society at large, but although the economic situation has deteriorated over the past 3 years or so he has managed to avoid getting most of the blame. With more ad hoc western loans, limited liberalisation to appeal to the EU and others as well as ties to the likes of China and Venezuela, the regime might stagger on for longer than expected. However filling the gap left by Russia withdrawing generous economic support will be very difficult. The EU has limited influence in Belarus but does offer a potential (though risky) alternative – if Russia is seen as too aggressive/coercive could propping up Lukashenko be seen as a least bad option – ‘better the devil you know’?. Could Lukashenko step down early on his own terms, rather than be ousted – he is cunning enough that he might actually pull it off!

As always, lots of maybes! I think the usual balancing act (over a minefield)/tango of convenience (on a tightrope)/chess game (with ever-changing rules/players) is going to get more difficult, and Lukashenko may well be off the scene in a couple of years, but if anyone can pull off holding on somehow for a bit longer despite all the commentary on his inevitable fall, Lukashenko maybe the man who can get away with it! Having said that, I’ll no doubt be proved wrong and it will now turn out he will be voted out in the first round by such a margin that no amount of vote rigging and fraud can cover it up!”

Posted in Belarus, Electoral Fraud, Revolutions, Russia Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Belarus 2010: Most likely methods of manipulation and fraud.

Posted by democratist on December 1, 2010

1st December 2010,
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It is always hard to predict exactly which techniques will be used to rig a particular election in advance, especially since these may vary according to the changing legal context, as well as from region to region, but on the basis of past experience the main methods likely to be employed in the 19th December 2010 Presidential elections in Belarus are as follows;
Firstly, the regime can abuse its huge influence and monopoly of power within local administrations to both ensure a good turnout, and encourage or coerce individuals to vote for the incumbent.
The local administration achieves this by abusing its control over resources such as jobs and education:
In this regard, employees of state enterprises (who make up about 50% of the workforce in Belarus), may be brought into a meetings with their managers, and told that their jobs might be on the line if the President is not re-elected (or more directly, if they do not vote for him). The many people who work for local authorities (hospitals, clinics, water, roads, sanitation etc.) will receive similar talks from the mayor or another senior figure.  University staff and students will also be threatened with expulsion of they don’t vote for the for the right candidate. Very often these groups will be encouraged to vote early to ensure a high turnout, and in some cases transport will be arranged to get them to the polls.
As an example of this form of manipulation, the NGO “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” recently noted that, during a meeting at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, Rector Mikhail Batura is quoted as having stated;
“We have a great upcoming political event, the presidential election. I cannot ignore the issue. I urge you all to take part in this election. Moreover, I even advise you on the candidate for whom to vote. This is the incumbent head of the state, because everything good that was done in this country was achieved in the years of his presidency. Therefore, I urge you all to take part in the election….We have always encouraged our students to go to early voting, because then… different situations happen…Therefore, early voting will be held from December 13th, and I urge you to take part in it.”
-
It is to be noted that those voting will be afraid that the authorities have the ability to find out who they voted for by checking the ballots cast against counterfoils (regardless of whether this actually happens).
Secondly, the fact that Belarus allows for “early voting” between 14th-18th December (during which typically 30% of the total number of votes will be cast) has in the past facilitated ballot-box stuffing, because the ballot boxes remain under the protection of Polling Station staff outside voting hours during the early voting period (and international observers do not arrive until shortly before the final “election day” on 19th December) and this has made it easy for senior PEC staff to cast additional votes for the incumbent after the polling has closed, as well as falsify signatures on the voter register to legitimize these votes.
It is to be noted that the CEC has recently changed the law to make this practice harder (for example, ballot boxes are to be sealed at the end of each day) but the extent to which the change in the rules will be followed on the ground remains to be seen.
Additionally, in the past, international observers have not been permitted to watch the counting of votes too closely, and are forced to sit at a distance that makes it hard for them to see the marks on the ballot (again the CEC has apparently passed a resolution to allow them to observe more closely this time).
Furthermore, in 2006 the OSCE reported that, in a number of instances, the completed election results forms were completed in pencil (which of course can be altered later).
So, there are a multiple opportunities for fraud, but the most significant enabler of these is the near total absence of opposition representation throughout the election administration, as well as in local government generally.
Perhaps the best illustration of the barely-hidden bias of the system to have emerged so far was provided by the Chair of the Central Election Commision, Lidia Yermoshina, yesterday. In response to the release of polling data indicating that President Lukashenko may currently have less than 50% support, and might therefore be forced into a second round run-off, ITAR TASS reports this nominally independent appointee as stating, “Why do you think that will be a two-round election? I am positive I will see in New Year at home.”

Posted in Belarus, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights | 2 Comments »

Belarus: The Geopolitics of the “Black Revolution.”

Posted by democratist on November 23, 2010

23rd November 2010.

More evidence is beginning to emerge of the Russian government’s all-but-openly-declared plotting to oust President Alexandr Lukashenko during, or shortly after the Belarussian Presidential elections due on 19th December.

In this regard, last Sunday Russia’s Channel One (also widely available in Belarus) ran a propaganda piece relating to the pre-election situation.

This declared that Lukashenko was “weaker today than he has ever been before” due to Belarus’ economic and other problems, and predicted that the country will likely face a currency crisis early in the new year.

More significantly, the programme (Vremya) also attempted to pull off what we can only describe as an impressive attempt at doublethink, as it tried to paint the EU as having been supportive of Lukashenko (employing a recent ill-judged quote by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite) while Russia was recast as a stalwart defender of the Belarussian opposition (or at least of two pro-Russian opposition presidential candidates; Andrei Sannikov and Stanislau Shushkevich).

Thus, Sannikov was quoted as saying (in a line presumably scripted in Moscow),“We should proceed from the real situation. If Europe speaks about supporting Lukashenko, while Russia speaks about the opposition, we should take this into account and welcome it.”

And Shushkevich was permitted to chip-in with a spot of rabble-rousing anti-Lukashenko xenophobia; “You know, I have only Belarusians among my ancestors. [Lukashenko's] nationality is unknown: maybe he is of Roma origin, or of Jewish origin. In any case, he is definitely not a Belarusian.”

So, a fascinating scenario is emerging: The Belarusian electoral administration is massively dominated at all levels by Lukashenko loyalists. It is no exaggeration to say that the Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs), which oversee the key organizational aspects of the process have been specifically designed to allow them to co-operate with local authorities (since they are largely composed of the same people) to allow them to use their influence in universities, hospitals and Belarus’ many state-enterprises (who employ 51.2% of the workforce) so as to both “get out the vote”, and pressure individuals to vote for the incumbent.

As long as this system remains functioning, there is no chance of any opposition figure being declared winner of the Presidential elections. Even if it does break down to some degree, the most popular Belarusian opposition politician (according to the independent IISEPS research centre) Russian-backed Vladimir Neklyaev, currently has only 16.8% of support in the opinion polls, while Lukashenko remains the most popular with support from about 48% of the electorate, regardless of recent external media pressure. Additionally, Sannikov himself is currently polling about 8.6%, with Romanchuk’s taking about 6.1% and Mikhalevich’s on 6.4%.

Thus, the most likely outcome is still a Lukashenko victory in the first round. While a second round run-off remains a possibility, we suspect that the key move (if it comes) will have to be during the days immediately after the first round poll, presumably in the shape of a coup dressed-up as some kind of popular revolution (a “Black” revolution), with one of the opposition candidates as a figurehead.

For the most part, the West, which (as the history of much of the last two decades has demonstrated) has limited political or economic  influence in Belarus, will be forced to watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds; their main strategy (apart from calling for a transparent vote) is likely to be to act as quickly as possible to build up an enhanced relationship with the most likely future “candidates” (although these may be somewhat reluctant to play along, because they know Russia remains the only serious player).

If they do decide to go ahead with such a scheme, the Russians will be gambling that the US and EU are unwilling to risk the recent political and strategic advantages they have secured from the “reset,” to a lengthy spat over a coup in a country over which they have never had any significant control.

Posted in Belarus, European Union, Russia Foreign Policy, US - Russia | Leave a Comment »

Lukashenko maintaining tight grip on electoral process.

Posted by democratist on November 4, 2010

4th November 2010,

It looks like President Lukashenko of Belarus has so far managed to keep the electoral process well under control in the run up to Presidential elections due on 19th December.

According to the latest report by Democratists’ friends over at Viasna, a Belarussian Human Rights organization, “Nomination of candidates for inclusion in the 6,346 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) [i.e. polling stations] finished on 31 October…Opposition parties have put forward only about 1,000 candidates out of 84,024.”

For the uninitiated, this basically means that the ruling party will nominate, at a minimum a little under 99% of all the people that will be working in the polling stations in Belarus on election day.

Still, this compares favourably with the Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs) [responsible for regional oversight], where only 14 members out of a total of 2000 (or 0.7%) are representatives of opposition parties.

The Belarusian electoral machine therefore appears to be functioning as per normal at this point in the process.

If the Russians really want to get rid of Lukashenko, it will be hard for them to achieve this through the ballot box.

Posted in Belarus, Electoral Fraud | 2 Comments »

 
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