A student guest post, this time on Belarus, the country fondly known as “Europe’s Last Dictatorship.”
From the surface, Belarus has an impressive democratic tradition, with a typical Western format. There is a bicameral legislature, a President elected by absolute majority, and a President-appointed Prime Minister. The Parliament, known as the Natsionalnoye Sobranie, is divided into two houses; the upper house, the Soviet Respubliki, consists of 56 Presidentially-appointed seats. 8 representatives hail from each of the seven constituencies- the six regions, as well as the capitol, Minsk. The lower house, the Palata Predstaviteley, as 110 members, each representing one of 110 single-member constituencies.
The electoral system in the Palata Predstaviteley is a simple two-round majority vote. The first round of votes is considered valid if at least 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot, and any candidate who receives over 50% of the vote is elected. If no candidate does so, the two leading candidates hold a secondary run-off election, valid if 25% of voters take part. A second round of voting is also held if less than 50% of eligible voters take part in the first round.
The government reported a 90.65% turnout in the last presidential election, as well as a 74.3% turnout in the most recent parliamentary election. This data would grant them the title of the nation with the fourth best democratic participation in the world- if it were not entirely falsified.
In an interview with the BBC, leader of opposition group Tell the Truth, Mikhail Pashkevich, stated that “There are no elections… in Belarus now, only something like a farce, a play that is named election but is not an election,” later elaborating with claims that election results were simply determined in advance. It is for this reason that groups such as his have been encouraging Belarusians to not vote, thereby not legitimizing the corrupt regime that has dominated the nation since Lukashenka’s election in 1994. Pashkevich was one among 40,000 who gathered in Minsk on election day 2010 to peacefully protest, despite aggressive acts by riot police. Not joining the group, however, was opposition candidate Uladzimir Nyaklayeu; en route to the protest, he was “…dragged from his car by masked men who fired shots into the air and forced everyone to lay face down to the ground. Nyaklayeu was then beaten unconscious and his friends took him to hospital.” The government’s response to the rest of the protestors was swift, and led to the arrests of over 600 dissidents, including seven of the nine presidential candidates. Effectively adding insult to injury, Lukashenko chose this moment to announce his landslide “victory”- an impressive 80%, with only 10% of voters having chosen any of the other candidates.
The international response regarding this incident, as well as the general political atmosphere in Belrus, has been dismal at best. US Senator Richard Durbin, upon visiting Minsk a year later and finding the dissidents still imprisoned, was less than impressed. “To think that you would systematically arrest and imprison political prisoners tells me that Belarus is not even close to the democratic values that we want to see,” he said. Durbin did not see nearly the worst of the situation, according to many- one leaflet distributor claims to have been regularly beaten with a felt boot filled with crushed stone during his imprisonment, as a means of interrogation.
The democratic status of Belarus was best summed up by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a recent statement: “The aim of giving President Lukashenko’s regime the appearance of democratic legitimacy has clearly failed. In view of the glaring irregularities in these elections, it is clearly visible for everyone what Belarus is today: the last dictatorship in the heart of Europe.”
Belarus election guide. (2012, December 19). Retrieved from http://www.electionguide.org/election.php?ID=1949
Belarus election: Opposition shut out of parliament. (2012, September 24). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19690249
Election process in the republic of belarus. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.belarus.by/en/government/belarus-elections/election-process-in-the-republic-of-belarus
Inter-parliamentary union: Belarus. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.ipu.org/parline/reports/2027_B.htm
Karmanau, Y. (2012, September 24). belarus elections 2012: Parliament vote undemocratic, says organization for security and cooperation in europe Huffington Post, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/belarus-elections-2012-parliament_n_1908928.html
Kiryl semyanchuk: They were beating me with a felt boot filled with crushed stone. (2011, March 29). Retrieved from http://ec2-54-247-43-95.eu-west-1.compute.amazonaws.com/en/news/2011/3/29/37212/
Marples, D. (2010, May 31). Belarus gears up for election OpenDemocracy Russia, Retrieved from http://www.opendemocracy.net/david-marples/belarus-gears-up-for-election
Marples, D. (2011). Belarus elections end in violence and repressions. Eurasia Daily Monitor, 8(3), Retrieved from http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2010). Republic of belarus presidential election . Retrieved from website: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/75713
‘Troubled’ by minsk visit, u.s. senator urges coordinated moves to counter belarus abuses. (2011, January 21). Radio Free Europe. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/content/us_senator_troubled_minsk_visit_urges_coordination_counter_belarus_abuses/2282810.html
(2010). Belarus: Scenes of the crackdown. (2010). [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/media/photogallery/2253559.html