Last presidential elections in Belarus were a significant test not only for the society and opposition, but first and foremost for Lukashenko’s regime. The events of the presidential campaign showed that Lukashenko didn’t plan to play democracy and accede to minimum concessions to the opposition. The campaign turned into mass cleansing aimed against the whole democratic community and against everything that’s just a little different from official political line. Tough measures of state power reached their climax and showed that Lukashenko was by no means going to yield up the power.
Another testimony to the political inertia of the Belorussian regime became regional elections, in the course of which the society as well as the opposition was involved minimally, however, the effort of local authorities and commissions was coordinated. Also the representatives of Central Election Commission were unpleasantly surprised at the absence of any activity either of the Belarus society or candidates into local soviets. It’s to be said that in the period of Lukasheno’s rule an inertial mechanism of election conduction was formed and brought into life on any level, which may be defined as a self-recruiting campaign.
Simultaneously, one has to mention the fact that the 2006 election campaign was under way in a relatively favourable international and economic conjuncture, i.e. without the external pressure of Russia, which maintained a “status quo” in relation to the Belorussian regime up to the beginning of 2007.
The conditions of election realisation
The oncoming 2008 elections will be under way under completely different foreign-political and inner-political conditions. There will be a growing tension inside the entire political system. Gas conflict with Russia, the increase of expenditures on living and the growth of food prices and inflation as well as the removal of discounts will to a large extent affect the relations between the society and governmental policy. In spite of this, the mentioned factors will hardly stir up open and mass protests against the establishment. As a last resort, if the economic and social situation starts to get worse, this won’t happen thus much rapidly so that a massive collapse of the economic system could set in, which may become the cause of mass appearances. Moreover, the propaganda along with the perpetual administratively-repressive apparatus can prevent the formation of a negative public opinion for a longer period.
One of the most crucial preconditions for a “successful course” of the 2008 election campaign will be the position of Russia and its perception of steps which the Belorussian state power will make in order to secure its victory in parliamentary elections. Till 2008, the Belorussian regime acted in the form of reprisals and the counterfeiting of election results with the tacit consent of Russia accepting any election and referendum results. It concurrently upheld Belarus by any possible means in the international arena irrespective of the international community’s criticism. Under the conditions of a sharp conflict with Russia, the securing of similar political support of Minsk from the side of Moscow will be rather complicated.
It’s impossible for Minsk to deal with a double political isolation. Owing to the deterioration of relations with the EU as well as Russia, Lukashenko will be forced to make a choice between the East and the West. If Lukashenko decides for the West, he will have to allow at least several representatives of the opposition to enter the Parliament showing thus readiness for state democratisation to the EU and the US. However, this process might not be launched at all in reality. In the case of Lukashenko’s decision for Moscow’s support, he will have to surrender the strategic branches of Belorussian economy to Russian corporations. This would indisputably mean the reinforcement of Russia’s control over Belarus. Neither the first nor the second variant can satisfy the Belorussian establishment. Democratisation as well as the increase of Russian influence will sooner or later remove Lukashenko from power.
Meanwhile, there is no reason for doubts that the ruling elite possesses administrative and psychological tools by means of which it is capable of conducting the parliamentary election campaign in the spirit of the 2004 and 2006 campaigns. The enfeeblement of pressure on the society and democratic opposition could bring a further strengthening of the political activity of the most radical part of the society. This would pose an internal political threat for the regime and in the future it could cause that political processes will become uncontrollable.
It remains a question whether under the threat of country’s isolation Lukashenko will be ready to accede to the direct suppression of the opposition and the counterfeiting of election results like was the case in 2006. The position of Russia will be an answer to this question. It’s substantial that Moscow isn’t willing to lose its positions and influence in the republic. It also doesn’t plan to give it up to the European Union. Most probably, the Kremlin will use its tactic of “wavy” influence on Belorussian regime. Nowadays, after the presidential elections, the pressure weakened for some time, however, this standstill will only last till the period of Belorussian parliamentary elections. This is linked with the process of political shifts within the Russian establishment. Subsequently, political pressures on Minsk will be restored by a fresh power continuing up to the 2011 presidential elections when Moscow is likely to undertake more determined steps with the aim of achieving the substitution of the Belorussian leader.
In the case of such a scenario, which reminds of playing cat and mouse, the Belorussian power will obtain full freedom in order to secure an “elegant victory” in parliamentary campaign. Nevertheless, the political elite have to realise that sooner or later they will have to face an encounter with Russian political expansion.
The opposition is likely to embark upon parliamentary elections with the usual strategy consisting in the absence of a cohesive strategy and a united opposition camp. The primary question for opposition leaders will be the participation, or rather, the absence in election campaign. The participation as well as the absence in election campaign will pose a danger neither for the current power nor its image. It won’t even affect the inner-political situation inside the opposition itself.
One has to assume that two political blocs will take part in the elections, namely the United Democratic Forces of Belarus and the movement “For Freedom” headed by Aleksandr Milinkievich. The attempt to the coordination of steps and the formation of a united strategy will be carried out just in the case of the western pressure on the opposition. Nonetheless, even if the formal consolidation of the opposition camp is conducted, it won’t have influence on the division of powers and the campaign will most probably turn into an “information” one the objective of which will be to say to the people that “under the conditions of liberty, it’s conceivable to live better”. Neither the unified opposition nor the split one can become a real alternative to the regime. Even if suitable political and economic conditions for the opposition are created, the opposition won’t be able to start a mobilisation campaign quickly and to constitute a professional fraction in the parliament.
At present, the opposition is extremely weakened by perpetual internal dissensions and secret service’s activities. Even if there are still more or less stable party structures in Minsk, their activities are practically negligible in the regions. Moreover, in the majority of regional structures there are few people the professional competence of whose could enable not only to install suitable persons to deputy mandates, but also to fulfil the duties of a people’s representative efficiently, provided that such an opportunity arises suddenly.
We may suppose that the weakened opposition controlled by the state power may be on the one hand used as a “political” Spanish wall for the West, like it was in the past. On the other hand the state power may “let” obedient opposition politicians enter the Parliament in the case of an extreme worsening of the country’s political and economic situation in order to show the readiness to “democratise” the country to the West. In exchange for this it would expect certain political and economic concessions. In accordance with the process of regional elections, which are practically of no importance in the country, it doesn’t intend to undertake such steps.
Furthermore, the power will be afraid that under the conditions of the growing conflict with Russia, some opposition circles may be used by Moscow for the reinforcement of its lobby in Belarus. Today, a variant of parliamentary elections with the utilisation of administrative and repressive tools seems to be the most probable.
Lukashenko belongs to such a type of dictators who don’t accept any concessions. For him retreat stands for the manifestation of weakness and defeat. When solving political conflicts, he is sure to use power again and again, even if this should lead to his own demise. It is possible to change the political regime in Belarus solely under the influence of maximum political and socio-economic tension.