Opposition leader denounces 'election farce': Isolating Belarus no solution says Lithuanian premier's adviser

  • 2000-10-19
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Parliamentary elections in Belarus on Oct. 15 have been dismissed as invalid by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.S. State Department. Neighboring Lithuania does not recognize the election, a foreign policy adviser to the Lithuanian prime minister confirmed, but he warned against isolating Belarus, which would only increase Russia's influence on the country, he said.

The major opposition parties refused to participate in the election, citing the OSCE's assessment that conditions necessary for free and fair elections were not in place. This policy was vindicated by the low number of votes cast, said Vincuk Viacorka, chairman of the "Revived" Belarusian Popular Front in an interview with The Baltic Times. Claims by the Central Electoral Commission that voter turnout exceeded 60 percent were inaccurate, he said. "According to our data, turnout was below 40 percent in all the regions, invalidating the election on its own terms," said Viacorka.

Opposition politicians who broke with party policy and attempted to stand for election had mostly been disqualified by the electoral commission, said Viacorka.

"We forecast that this would be a pseudo parliament. The fact that these people have been thrown out proves our policy was correct," he said.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights issued a statement in which it repeated its reasons for not sending observers. "These elections fell short of meeting the minimum requirements for free, fair, equal and transparent elections," read the statement quoted in the local English-language newspaperBelarus Today.

"Despite some improvements since previous elections, the process remained flawed. The executive apparatus retained control of electoral commissions. Candidate registration procedures were abused to prevent undesirable candidates from participating. Campaign activities were regulated excessively, limiting voter performance."

Recent OSCE concerns have related to the death, imprisonment or disappearance of a series of opposition figures over the last two years. Parliament has consisted of MPs hand-picked by President Alexander Lukashenko since he imposed a new constitution in 1996. The United States continues to recognize the authority of the previous parliament Lukashenko disbanded.

Among many reports of polling irregularities, that by the Mogilev branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a human rights non-governmental organization, was particularly striking. Its president reported about 1,000 examples of violations at different stages of the electoral process in the region, according to the daily business newspaper Bela-ruskaya Delovaya Gazeta.

Higher voter turnout in rural areas was partly due to intimidation being more effective there, particularly on collective farms, said Viacorka. Evidence from the Spring 96 Human Rights Committee showed that the tactic of threatening students with expulsion from university had once again been used, he said.

The opposition trusts in the Baltic states' continued support, said Viacorka.

"There has been a lot of understanding of what is happening in Belarus, particularly in Lithuania," he said.

"It's in the Baltic states' interest for Belarus to become a friendly neighbor characterized by European democratic principles. So we hope they will see that defending their interests means not recognizing this pseudo election."

"Pragmatic economic and cultural cooperation" is how Davidas Matulionis, foreign affairs adviser to the Lithuanian prime minister describes Lithuania's policy towards Belarus.

"The Belarusian authorities have not adhered to OSCE requirements so we don't recognize the results of these elections," he said.

"It's important for Belarus to follow democratic principles, but isolation of Belarus is not the right path, unless we want Russia's influence there to increase. We've been sharing information and experience with students, journalists, election administrators and inviting them to Lithuania to see the effects of reform."

While Latvia also does not recognize the elections, three MPs defied government policy and traveled in an unofficial capacity to observe the elections.

"We want to demonstrate by our presence that we are prepared for cooperation with Belarus," said Aleksandrs Golubovs, MP in the coalition party For Human Rights in a United Latvia, speaking to LETA news agency.

The fall of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia is of "critical significance" to Belarus, said Viacorka.

"It tells us that we can win," he said. "We have to be unified. We are unified, and ready."

But Russia, to whom Belarus has become increasingly tied, broke with other European countries when President Vladimir Putin telephoned Lukashenko to offer his congratulations.