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Window of Reform Closed in Belarus for "Near Term"

(Washington, DC--November 16, 2004) The results of last month's national elections in Belarus show that the window for reform has closed for the "near term," according to an international observer of those elections who recently spoke to an RFE/RL audience.

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at American University who served as an election observer in the recently concluded national parliamentary elections in Belarus, said that "the total lack of an election campaign by the opposition," the results of the parliamentary election, as well as the approval of the referendum allowing President Aleksandr Lukashenka to run for a third term, demonstrate that "Lukashenka better controls the society than he did in 2001." Burger noted that, with Lukashenka exerting this level of control, it is difficult to imagine any economic or political reform occurring in Belarus in the near term.

Burger discussed a number of election irregularities that he and others observed during their stay in Belarus in October, such as the Central Election Commission "de-registering 20 candidates just prior to the election;" the lack of any visible campaign or campaign materials in support of non-government endorsed candidates; "insecure ballot boxes" that could be tampered with during the "pre-voting" period; and, particularly, the lack of any interaction with native local election observers. Burger, who served as an election observer in Belarus in 2001, noted that as he and his colleagues visited polling stations "not a single local observer for the opposition came to speak to him privately, unlike in 2001." Burger concluded that "there is sufficient intimidation in Belarus today" to keep the Lukashenka regime in power, and "it is significantly more repressive than three years ago."

While lauding the recent passage of the Belarus Democracy Act by the U.S. Congress, which authorizes more funding for the promotion of democratic reform in Belarus, Burger criticized past Western technical assistance to reformers in Belarus as "ineffective," and called for a more rigorous assessment of the situation and possibilities in Belarus.

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