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Will the West recognize parliamentary elections in Belarus?

Early voting for the parliamentary elections 2016 kicked off in Belarus on Sept 6. Experts say that its results will be decisive for Belarus’s further relations with the West, but it is still a question if the United States and the European Union are actually going to recognize the elections.

There are lots of facts proving that they in the West are not yet sure if this time - for the first time in over two decades - they should recognize any vote in Belarus. Their diplomats are very uncertain, their observers are very ambiguous. The Belarusians are not firm enough either. While their officials keep promising to ensure fair voting, the OSCE’s report has proved the opposite: they have fulfilled just three out of more than thirty requirements. So, it seems that all of their attempts to please the West have failed.

The OSCE’s report was not a surprise for experts. For almost two decades, parliamentary elections in Belarus have been just formality, with the list of MPs made by the president. So, each time the struggle was not for the votes of people but for a place in that list. This year things are mostly the same.

Of course, this time the opposition have more chances to gain votes: they have been allowed to canvass on TV, to place their faces on billboards and even to organize pickets in the streets. But this is all they can do. What they lack is people’s interest. Today, few Belarusians are really interested in politics, which is a great chance for their rulers to apply the models they have applied for years. This is not what they in the West would like to see. Of course, they are not naïve enough to expect Alexander Lukashenko to let their people into his parliament, but they can’t help being annoyed with his inflexibility. They in Minsk have sensed this. This is why a few days ago Head of the Central Election Commission Lidia Yermoshina said that the OSCE’s report was not all true.

Even more, while meeting with the heads of the OSCE monitoring mission Kent Harstedt and Caetano de Zulueta on Aug 30, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko advised them to better know Belarus and its people and the essence of electoral process in that country. “We are receiving lot of recommendations from lots of people. We are good learners. It is never late to learn. But we will do only what is best for our people,” Lukashenko said. And quite unexpectedly, Harstedt, who has observed four elections in Belarus to date, said that this year the campaign is better and more open.

But despite these compliments, the OSCE’s report set things straight. It said that the Belarusian authorities had done almost nothing to improve the electoral process in their country. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei tried to make the West change its minds by saying that this year’s vote was just the first step towards European standards. “We are still committed to conduct transparent and democratic elections and we hope that the final report will contain not only criticism but also facts confirming our positive efforts. That would encourage us to further improve our relations with European partners,” Makei said.

Will they in the West believe these promises? We doubt they will. After all, international organizations do not recognize elections, they just evaluate them. So, the OSCE’s final report will be as neutral as possible lest it might divert the Belarusians from their budding dialogue with the West. They will point to certain progress and will recommend removing certain deficiencies. No coincidence that recently the European Commission decided to include Belarus in the list of the European Investment Bank’s beneficiaries. This decision is a kind of a bonus for Lukashenko. But it will take force only in 20 days and implies more concessions on human rights and legal reforms. This is not what the Belarusians want. Over the last year, they have done really much to please the West in hope that their Russophobe policy will be rewarded. But time has shown that neither the Europeans nor the Americans are ready for a compromise with Lukashenko and are waiting for a better occasion.

Pavel Yurintsev

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