The most difficult choices for Alexander Lukashenko are the arrests of opponents, auto-riding on the streets, muscle playing by the security forces. But precisely for this reason, he will not lose power.
The Belarusian president clearly showed by the arrests of his opponents and criminal cases against them that the upcoming August 9 presidential elections will be devoid of even a hint of democracy, writes Denis Lavnikevich in No. 11-12 of the Journal Correspondent.
. This does not mean that he will lose the election – the system will ensure a “victory” in any vote. But he will lose legitimacy for sure: no one will recognize such a victory. However, the EU and the USA did not recognize it in the previous elections, starting in 2001.
MANAGED ELECTION SYSTEM
Alexander Lukashenko was first elected in 1994, in the second round he was opposed by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich. Most experts agree that these were the last fair and open elections. The second round was never once, the incumbent president always “wins” the first. True, in Belarus it is rather difficult to find a person who openly admits that he voted for Lukashenko.
After Lukashenko changed the Constitution back in 1996, Belarus is a presidential republic on the verge of a monarchy. Decrees, decrees and directives of the president automatically receive the status of laws; their approval by parliament is an optional formality. The President personally appoints officials, as well as heads of all settlements and all judges in the country.
The electoral system of Belarus is full of restrictions that make it impossible to monitor the course of elections and the counting of votes. To become a candidate, you need to collect 100 thousand reliable signatures of citizens of the country. It is difficult to do this among all those who avoid any “politics” and are frightened.
In addition, authorities can always recognize part of the signatures as invalid for formal reasons. But the current president easily collects the signatures of officials, state employees and in the “labor collectives” of state factories through the vertical of power.
This is followed by a short period of the election campaign itself – 24 days, when campaigning is allowed. At the same time, state-owned media outlets dominating in Belarus, of course, amicably agitate for Lukashenko.
Officials and members of pro-government PAs usually sit in election commissions. In these elections, two (!) Opposition representatives fell to 2 thousand members of the lower election commissions. In the literal sense, election observers are kept in a corner, prohibiting approaching the place of voting and communicating with voters; they are not allowed to count votes. Further, the protocols of election commissions go to the “black box” of the CEC, where there is no civilian control at all.
It is believed that the election took place if more than half of the citizens voted. The president is considered elected if more than half of the voting participants voted for him. If no one has enough votes in the first round, a second round of voting is held on the two leading candidates. Elected is the one who, when re-voting, received more than half the votes of voters who came to the ballot boxes.
But after 1994, there was never a second round. Each time, the CEC issued 75-85% of those who voted for Lukashenko, and for his rivals within the statistical error. Nobody believes the numbers; in 2010, the fraud was so frank that riots broke out in the center of Minsk. Result: Seven of nine Lukashenko rivals in those elections were arrested and convicted, as well as more than 700 demonstrators.
There were five elections in total, four of them took place in the first round – 1994 (1st round – 44.82%, 2nd round – 80.1%), 2001 (75.65%), 2006 (83%) 2010 (79.65%), 2015 (83.49%).
SOMETHING WAS NOT PLANNED
The previous presidential election – in 2015 – was ideal for Lukashenko. Completely staged, the rivals are a spoiler candidate (campaigning more for Lukashenko than for himself), a jester (ataman of the Belarusian Cossacks), and an unknown opposition woman. It is clear who won, gaining 83.5% of the vote.
But this year (this election is already the sixth for Lukashenko), everything went wrong. The CEC registered 15 initiative groups (each must collect 100,000 signatures for its candidate), but representatives of the establishment decided to take part in the elections, apart from ordinary little-known opposition leaders: ex-head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko (the walking quintessence of a successful banker), as well as a staff official and diplomat (long-term ambassador to the USA) Valery Tsepkalo. To them was added the popular Mogilev video blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky.
Right from the start, Babariko and Tikhanovsky turned out to be absolute electoral leaders: all polls gave them popularity of 50-60%, versus 3-5% for Lukashenko. Now there are no numbers: the Belarusian authorities have banned the media from conducting polls and comparing the popularity of candidates. However, at the pickets for collecting signatures for Tikhanovsky and Babariko, kilometer-long lines began to line up, quickly developing into unauthorized rallies.
Clashes with the police began, government propaganda joined, and at first Tikhanovsky, and two weeks later, Babariko (along with his son) were arrested. Many criminal cases have already been brought against both, lawyers are not allowed, dubious searches have been carried out, as a result of which they have not found the atomic bomb, but enough – dollars, gold bars, paintings and weapons.
Lukashenko states that he “will not give the country to swindlers from Gazprom”, an external administration has been introduced in the Belgazprombank owned by the Russians and all financial operations have been stopped.
People, however, did not believe in the criminality of their candidates and went to the streets. The whole end of the third week of June, spontaneous protests flared up not only in Minsk, but also in small cities across the country, which is unusual for Belarus, to put it mildly. People were dispersed and detained (only on June 19 – more than 270 people), but they are meeting again. So far, the protest is completely unorganized and, it seems, will continue to remain so.
Nobody expects fair elections, but people simply do not want to spend the next 26 years under the president by the name of Lukashenko.
WITH A LOOK AT PUTIN
“In the Belarusian elections there is a big figure of silence – this is the position of Moscow. Still, Belarusians live in the Russian information space, and the “Russian TV” is the main source that builds the train of thought of the average voter. Only now YouTube began to compete with him, and therefore the video blogger Tikhanovsky became such a prominent figure, said Correspondent Belarusian political scientist Svetlana Grechulina. – The same ordinary voter, if he is not pro-Russian, is sure that friendship with Moscow is indispensable. Therefore, Lukashenko, although he claims that Russia is behind the actions of his opponents in the person of Gazprom, on June 24 he planned to go to Moscow for a parade, and in fact, to meet with Vladimir Putin. This meeting will be crucial for the course of the election campaign. ”
So far, the Kremlin’s position is restrained and neutral. Because in this election campaign, Russia will win in any case. Lukashenko can only win through violence, and hundreds of people arrested last weekend (and another month and a half before the election) are proof of this. But such a scenario will completely destroy relations with the West that he has carefully built since 2015. We will again see sanctions against Minsk and Belarusian officials not entry to Europe led by the president. The result – the dependence of official Minsk on Russia will increase.
If (suddenly) Lukashenko loses the election, it will also be beneficial for the Kremlin. All his significant rivals stand for good relations with the Russian Federation, for negotiating and developing cooperation. No one speaks of a “move to Europe,” joining the EU and NATO.
All the leaders of the race can be called moderately pro-Russian. And this is unprofitable for Lukashenko, since he cannot bargain for the Kremlin’s support, proving to Putin that “if these come, Belarus will be torn from Russia” (an argument that worked in all previous elections). So it’s either to continue to bend to the public the line “these are all Gazprom’s machinations, and I’m the only defender of sovereignty”, or fly to Moscow — to sign road maps for “in-depth integration” with the Russian Federation under the sounds of ceremonial marches.
So far, everything is going to ensure that Moscow will support Lukashenko. On June 19, in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a fundamentally important agreement on the mutual recognition of visas on the territory of the Union State of Belarus and the Russian Federation. Most likely, on June 24 in Moscow, Lukashenko will sign roadmaps for integration, receive a reduction in gas prices and support on Russian TV channels.
Then, closer to the elections, it will solemnly launch the Belarusian NPP, built in Ostrovets for Russian money, and raise salaries with pensions. Babarikos can even be released on bail and registered as a candidate. Deprived of money and activists, he will not be able to oppose the pressure of the state propaganda machine. For the 26 years of Lukashenko’s rule, Belarusian security forces have learned to suppress street protests.
“Sanya will stay with us!” – the Belarusian group RockerJoker sang ironically back in 2010. The song was prophetic.