Western countries will generally approve the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Belarus, though not without criticism. The reason is not the democratic and transparent nature of the voting in Belarus, but the West’s new tactics that pursue to bring Belarus out of Russia’s influence through closer cooperation with the incumbent authorities in that country, believe Russian and Belarusian experts who spoke to EADaily on September 6.
Andrey Suzdaltsev, Deputy Dean, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, HSE, says the West will assess “very positively” the results of the elections. In his words, Alexander Lukashenko is enjoying finest moments now, since the sanctions have been lifted and much has been promised to him, for instance, an IMF loan. “Although Lukashenko has changed nothing in the legislation, failed to implement the West’s requirements concerning the election procedures, I think, the elections will be declared valid, the lower chamber of the parliament will be legitimized, and Lukashenko will eventually receive a loan from the IMF. Alexander Lukashenko may even pay a visit to the USA,” Suzdaltsev says. In his words, elections are of big importance for Belarus to make a breakthrough on the way to the West. Suzdaltsev is sure that the West seeks to buy over Russia’s ally.
Head of the Belarus Department of the CIS Institute Alexander Fadeyev says there is no common approach to this issue in the West. “The approaches of Washington and Brussels to the political regime in Belarus vary. Although the EU lifted the visa bans and financial restrictions from Lukashenko, high-ranking government officials, businesspersons, U.S. has not. Washington believes that Belarus violates the fundamental principles of democracy and that human rights are not properly guaranteed in that country,” Fadeyev says.
As for the European Union, the expert believes that it will recognize the parliamentary elections in Belarus as legitimate on the basis of the OSCE/ODIHR resolutions. The expert is sure that the OSCE Mission will make some critical remarks concerning the election procedures and counting technology, but the general assessment of the elections will be positive.
What may arouse EU’s concerns is the early voting that lasts five days before the voting day.
“How they vote there, who votes and how the votes are counted is not clear enough. Naturally, this seems doubtful to the representatives of the West’s democratic society. However, I would like to say that such system of early voting is practiced in many countries, even in the ones that the West considers as the most democratic countries. For instance, the United States. OSCE/ODIHR has repeatedly criticized U.S. over early voting. Nothing has changed. They continue to hold early voting as before. Therefore, it is not easy to reproach Minsk for early voting,” Fadeyev said.
He believes that early elections are not a reason for concern unlike the number of voters participating in them that is growing in Belarus year by year. “For instance, more than 36% of the voters participated in the early voting at the last presidential election. It is strange to suppose that more than one-third of the population was outside the country on the voting day, which was not even in the summer cottage or vacation seasons. It is not clear where those people left to. Lukashenko is well aware that the situation is not normal and has to find certain explanations beforehand. For instance, at today’s working meeting with the chair of the Central Election Commission, he started justifying the early election saying the weather will be fine this week and everyone will be at their summer cottages. Therefore, it is clear that people will vote beforehand,” Fadeyev says.
The expert recalls that the amendments to the election code the OSCE recommended after the presidential election of 2015 have not been passed, while all the amendments made to the election legislation put restrictions upon the Belarusian opposition and do not let it to the parliament. “The OSCE and European Commission are well aware of that, but they will be closing their eyes on it, considering Minsk’s actually anti-Russian stance on Ukraine,” Fadeyev says.
Deputy Director of the Center for Ukrainian and Belarusian Studies at the M.V. Lomonosov MSU, Bogdan Bezpalko thinks the elections in Belarus will be approved by the West.
“The West stakes on the friendly amalgamation of Belarus, and its friendly involvement into Western projects. Of course, the leadership of Belarus and namely Alexander Lukashenko will face some gentle criticism, but the West will continue working with them to gain over Belarus from Russia or at least pave the way towards that. In the given situation, Western power centers understand that approval or disproval of the elections will not affect their results. At the same time, the leadership of Belarus will perceive the absence of harsh criticism as approval and legitimization of the autocratic regime in Belarus. In this light, the relations with Western centers will be built on a more favorable basis,” Bezpalko forecasts.
Jean Chubukov, a Belarusian political analyst, thinks that the West will not respond to the upcoming elections in Belarus, since the outcome is evident and the parliament will hardly undergo any serious reshuffles.
“The Belarusian authorities have achieved mutual understanding with the West. Evidently, the cooperation with the authorities in Belarus is much more promising both tactically and strategically rather than with fringe politicians. Nevertheless, the West will support its radical asset for unforeseen (or planned) situations of instability. We have been observing the same pattern for many years: observers arrive from the West bringing with them already drafted reports on the elections (irrespective of the voting outcome) and launch operative and analytical activity sidestepping their vassals but under their information coverage. They meet with government officials, recruit and select human resources and take other measures for the future. What about elections? Who cares for them? The outcome is clear to everyone, and all the reports are drafted beforehand,” Chubukov says.
He does not anticipate any changes from the parliamentary elections. Nor they in the West and Belarus do. “The Belarusian parliament is the most independent governing body in the sense that nothing depends on it. It is a useless agency, representatives of which little differ from Ukrainian MPs. Perhaps, their biography is less dirty.” They will be voting in support of any political force at the Council of the Republic. If the fascists come to power, they will vote for fascists, if liberals come, they will be supporting liberals. Now, these people that approve and support everything are just being rotated. Such parliament is the West’s dream. Therefore, nothing will change,” the expert said.
As EADaily reported earlier, elections to the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament - are scheduled for Sunday, September 11. The voters are to elect 110 MPs representing single mandate constituencies. The early voting started on September 6.