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Belarus' Non-Election Election Points to More Repression

(Washington, DC--October 4, 2000) Upcoming parliamentary elections in Belarus are Alyaksandr Lukashenka's last effort to legitimize his government, but this fraudulent vote seems to leave in its wake only a more unified opposition and a regime increasingly willing to employ repression.

That was the message that Andrei O. Sannikov delivered to an RFE/RL press briefing today. A former deputy foreign minister of Belarus who resigned to protest Lukashenka's controversial 1996 referendum, Sannikov now serves as international coordinator for Charter 97, a Belarusian civic initiative modeled on the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia.

Sannikov said that Lukashenka's efforts to legitimize himself through the ballot box are doomed to failure. One of the indications of Lukashenka's desperation, Sannikov noted, was his willingness to agree to OSCE conditions for sending observers, only to renege on them later. The few foreign observers he has recruited cannot be counted on to report accurately. Fewer than half of the Belarusian people are likely to participate. Indeed, Sannikov added, Lukashenka's behavior has been so egregious that he has effectively impeached himself.

But these elections nonetheless represent an important development in three respects, Sannikov continued. First, they have served to unite the Belarusian opposition, all of which is committed to boycotting this vote. The united opposition, he said, will soon publish a programmatic document outlining its vision of a future independent and democratic Belarus. Second, they have highlighted the difference between those countries like the United States which are committed to democracy in Belarus and those like Russia which have done and will do little to help promote democratic change there.

Third, Sannikov said, the very failure of the elections to legitimize Lukashenka's government almost certainly will lead to increased repression after the October 15 vote. That repression, he said, will not destroy the opposition or do anything to institutionalize Lukashenka's political regime. Indeed, Sannikov said, the one certainty is that Lukashenka's system will not survive Lukashenka.