Backgrounder: Presidential election in Belarus
by Hai Yang, Song Zongli and Sun Ping
MINSK, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko is widely expected to secure a fourth term by defeating other nine candidates in Sunday's presidential election.
While the final results of the election came as expected, some positive signs during the election and subtle changes in Minsk's foreign policies are quite noteworthy.
LITTLE SUSPENSE FOR A FOURTH TERM
Lukashenko has been serving as the Belarussian president since 1994, when the country held its first presidential election. During the past 16 years, Belarus has managed to maintain political stability, sustainable economic growth and improved people's livelihood.
The Belarussian government has given priority to narrowing the gap between the rich and poor and improving social security, while adhering to a people-oriented development path and gradual approach to reform. Therefore, Belarussians are on the whole satisfied with their lives despite their comparatively low incomes.
In the first 10 months of 2010, Belarus achieved a rapid post-crisis growth of 6.8 percent in Gross Domestic Product. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also forecast the Belarussian economy has gone out of crisis and onto recovery track.
In his campaign platform issued on Nov. 27, Lukashenko pledged to further help Belarussians to get wealthier. He said he would continue to develop the country's infrastructure and housing, and raise people's salaries and pensions.
Recently, Lukashenko also hinted to media that there would be political changes in the country.
By contrast, the opposition failed to nominate a candidate acceptable to all parties, and their hand-picked candidates lacked the populous support and could hardly come up with any feasible campaign platforms.
Therefore, social stability, a growing economy and poor performance by the opposition are considered major factors behind Lukashenko's victory.
FREER, SIMPLER, LARGER
The European Union (EU), the United States and other western countries, have hailed what they call some new signs in the current presidential elections compared with the three previous presidential races.
Upon proposals from the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Minsk changed the electoral laws allowing one third of the election commission members to come from various parties and social organizations.
The authorities have also simplified procedures for electing presidential candidates and eased the restrictions on registration. As a result, the number of registered candidates in the Central Election Commission has increased significantly.
Meanwhile, new electoral laws permitted presidential candidates to use private funds in their campaigns.
Major Belarusian TV stations broadcasted live debates between candidates for the first time in the past 16 years.
In addition, some 1,000 international observers have been accredited for the polling.
However, one thing remained unchanged is the early voting in the election process, which the opposition said would make it easier for the authorities to manipulate election results.
The authorities require that the early voting start five days before the official election day to guarantee every voter's sovereign rights.
However, analysts believed that the "color revolution" in other ex-Soviet republics could hardly recur in Belarus, as it will benefit no one especially when the Belarussian government has done a job satisfactory to its own people and maintained good ties with other countries.
TRIMMING FOREIGN POLICIES
Analysts believed Lukashenko might make some finetuning in foreign policies when he is re-elected for a fourth term.
They expect Belarus to continue its close ties with Russia while gradually and cautiously move closer toward the West to maintain its sovereign integrity and national interests,analysts said.
Over the past year Moscow and Minsk have been at odds over a number of issues such as energy price and agricultural trade.
Analysts attributed the discord between the two countries to Minsk's reluctance to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two Georgian breakaway regions.
However, the previous tit-for-tat spats had apparently dissolved in early December, precisely before the start of Belarus' presidential election, with Russia agreed to continue zero oil export duties for Belarus, and Belarus agreed to sign a legal package for Moscow, Minsk and Astana to establish a common economic space.
In view of Lukashenko's sure victory in the presidential poll, Russia made goodwill gestures to Belarus while adopting a carrot-and-stick approach to its relations with Belarus.
On its part, good relations with Moscow is vitally important for Minsk, giving its dependence on Russia for energy and economic and political support.
Meanwhile, EU has given a clear message to Lukashenko by sending presidents of its three member countries to visit Belarus. The Belarussian government promised to give up its stock of highly enriched uranium in a joint statement issued together with the United States earlier this month. All these indicate that the West is ready to make compromise with Lukashenko as no one can take his place for now.