Lukashenko wins 4th term

by Tom Washington

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is claiming victory in Sunday's election after official figures gave him 79.67 per cent of the vote.

But the victory, which would see Lukashenko elected for a fourth time, has been tarnished by a violent crackdown against opposition protesters, who claimed the poll was fraudulent.

EU observers criticised Sunday's poll, and that could mean an end to Lukashenko's efforts to cosy up to Brussels and mending fences with Moscow after a year of squabbles.

Belarus has been hailed as an economic miracle, at least in comparison with similar CIS states. But that all depends on shrewd negotiations and a balancing act between east and west.

Experts say Lukashenko needs to remain in someone's good books. "He needs to pay close attention to someone, the Belarusian economy is something of a miracle when you compare it to its [former soviet republic] neighbours, such as Moldova. That's all of foreign provenance," Tomas Valusek, of the Centre for European Reform, told The Moscow News.

'Not free or fair'

International observers from the OSCE have also criticised the vote.

"Belarus is on the right track but her goal is still far away," Georg Schirmbeck, a German member of parliament, told Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung on Monday. He said that although there was progress made on previous elections, the latest one was neither free nor fair.

Despite Lukashenko's authoritarian stance, he may have been undermined by pro-Russian forces in the security services. "Lukashenko had everything on his side. He has the deal with Russia and the EU hinted that if there were improvements they would recognise the elections, which it seemed it would do until the election day," Jana Kobsova, an expert at the European Council of Foreign Relations, told The Moscow News.

Security services' role

She added that Sunday's crackdown showed a lack of direction in the corridors of power. "One side wanted liberalisation and relations with Europe, and the security services were not happy with this. And it was the security services who carried out the attacks," said Kobsova.

"This shows you that not everyone is really happy with thiscloser attention to the EU. It is now really difficult for Europe to say that nothing happened."

Russian handouts have amounted to $50 billion in the last 10 years, Valusek says, citing Russia's finance minister, Alexei Kudrin.

"The Belarussian economy has always survived on subsidies, so if Lukashenko is to maintain his social contract, which requires low levels of unemployment and relatively generous welfare, he will have to turn to someone."

That someone is likely to be Russia. "He has effectively closed off the European option for now and will have to rely on his relationship with Russia. The economy is going to need more help. The inference I can draw from this is that he will have to turn to Russia, or possibly other sources, like the Chinese," said Valusek.


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