The election campaign is continuing in Belarus. Many candidates for the post of president refer to it as "a joke of Peter the Great period". The setting for the "performance" looks quite modern, though. The candidates are provided with air time on radio and TV and even television debates - a real novelty for Belarus - will take place for the first time.
In spite of the new veneer, there are no signs of a free election in Belarus. All media are under a tough governmental control. This is what "The Voice of Russia" learned from Yaroslav Romanchuk, the deputy chairman of the United Civil Party and the third most popular candidate for the presidential post:
"Lukashenko completely dominates the Belarusian information space. Up to November, Lukashenko has been mentioned in the media 12 and a half thousand times more than all the democratic candidates together. The Belarusian authorities imitate democracy, freedom of speech and access to the media. I think this is, first of all, meant for the European Union, which is to fall for the so-called "liberalization" of the presidential election campaign. If Lukashenko achieves his aim, the OSCE will confirm progress in pursuing a democratic Presidential election and even recognise its result. If the West really wants to understand the situation and the nature of the presidential campaign, it will never find any reasons to recognize the election result as free and democratic".
Belarusian politicians and experts are especially indignant over the format of the TV debates they were offered by the authorities. The current President Lukashenko who is the main opponent of all democratic candidates, has refused to take part in them. The other nine candidates were offered to get together in the television studio for only an hour. During this time, all nine candidates are supposed to explain their election programmes to the viewers and to debate with each other. Andrey Sannikov, the former deputy foreign minister of Belarus and the second most popular candidate, says the following:
"I have no idea what will happen in the studio, how comfortably I am going to feel there. We were not allowed to use a tele-prompter, probably to make us awkwardly leaf through our notes. It is quite obvious that there is discrimination against the opposition on TV. The authorities even cut any mention of the Belarusian opposition out of Russian news programmes. Last Sunday, the plot about the Belarusian election was completely cut out of the Russian Vesti Nedeli programme. When they talk about the opposition, our media never mention any names. In their interpretation, the opposition is something nameless, mythical and abominable."
On the next day after the television debates, President Lukashenko is planning to speak at the so-called Belarusian People's Assembly in the main Palace of Minsk. It is a mystery who chose this assembly and when. But after the first most popular candidate, poet Vladimir Nekliayev collected 27,000 signatures in support of him being a delegate of this assembly, he was denied the status. The candidate commented on this in the following way: "I was unambiguously made to understand that aliens were not allowed entry."