Parliamentary elections in Belarus have come to an end and the Opposition has lost again, as it was to be expected. However, this time it wasn’t just a political defeat. It lost also from the psychological point of view since it relied on the authority’s statements and believed President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s vague pledges that fair elections would be held. Lukashenko gave the representatives of opposition parties as well as independent candidates no chance to fill parliamentary seats used these efficiently for own game with the West. All 110 parliamentary mandates in the House of Representatives were assumed by the representatives of authority without exception.
Only few people were surprised at such results with the exception of those who believed that the authority would make concessions and enable formally at least two or three opposition representatives to enter the Parliament. Although Lukashenko maintained long before the elections that he “didn’t intend to pluck the Opposition into the Parliament at their ears” (1). Moreover, it’s clear that in the conditions of an authoritarian regime the Opposition is doomed to follow the course which it was determined by the authority and remains thus solely a mechanism within the ruling elite’s political game. The political independence of the Opposition has approached zero under the given circumstances. In authoritarian societies, the power wins and the Opposition loses, even if it assumes that it has won something. Under the circumstances, the authority derives benefit from any decisions of opposition leaders because the participation or non-participation of the Opposition in these elections doesn’t mean anything. Furthermore, the Opposition as well as the authority took part in this process only in order to prove something to the West. The authority wanted to manifest certain openness of Belarusian political room whereas the Opposition wanted to present that it had worked actively on the country’s liberalisation and democratisation.
Nevertheless, Belarusian Opposition’s participation in parliamentary elections has proven once again that nowadays there isn’t any united opposition front in Belarus and nor are leaders with natural authority and comprehensible strategy for political steps. From the very beginning of the political campaign, democratic community was divided into two camps, namely into boycott adherents and elections supporters. Among the former were predominantly youth organisations, for instance, Belarusian Popular Front Youth (Moladz BNF), Bunt etc. The representatives of political parties working in terms of United Democratic Forces of Belarus (ODS) spoke in favour of election participation. Even when it became apparent that the authority wouldn’t make any concessions to the Opposition, a wide range of leaders, for example, Anatoliy Lebedko, and organisations like United Civil Party of Belarus or Communis Party of Belarus carried on participating in the campaign. Such a position of democratic forces simply disorientated the people. One part of the Opposition appealed to boycott and declared that the elections are just a farce while the other part legitimised the whole process by means of its participation. There was point in the official media quoting one of the young representatives of Belarusian Opposition, namely the former Vice-Chair of the Party of the Belarusian People’s Front (PBNF) Ales Mikhalevich: “The atmosphere of House of Representatives elections has changed in comparison with former election campaign. During the current election campaign, fully loyal attitude to all candidates was demonstrated… Many authority opponents may enter the new Parliament.” (2) These words may attest indirectly that certain agreements among individual representatives of the Opposition might have existed. In the last campaign stage, opposition representatives set a new goal of showing to the West through election participation that there was no democracy in the country and that it was impossible to engage in a dialogue with the regime and to lift sanctions (3). One has to point out that it wasn’t a contrived strategy, but an opportunity to excuse own unsuccessful election participation.
Unfortunately, Belarusian Opposition quit counting on own sources and the support of society long ago, but it relies on abstract political agreements with the representatives of the ruling elite as well as the fact that the authority will be lenient with its opponents giving them a slice of the power cake. Nonetheless, recent events indicate that even if Belarusian authority representatives promise “something” to the Opposition, they will never fulfil it. For the authority, agreements stand for the mechanism for governing and dividing the Opposition, they aren’t an element of political dialogue.
From the very beginning, practically all analysts were convinced that even if somebody from among the Opposition entered the Parliament, it would be exclusively people controlled by the authority who would fulfil tasks assigned by the governmental authority. The being in the Opposition itself simply loses its sense and the Opposition wins nothing in fact, but it becomes still more dependent on the authority. At present, the Opposition isn’t capable of influencing the change of political situation in the country and a united democratic camp doesn’t exist.
Under these conditions, statements about Lukashenko taking fright at the Opposition and not allowing it into the Parliament for this sake are unfounded. General public interest in elections was and remains very low and the majority of voters know neither opposition candidates nor official ones. For instance, a sociological research has been carried out in the town of Mogilev according to which 87 per cent of voters don’t know or don’t remember who they voted in the previous elections in 2004 (4). Therefore the Opposition doesn’t have a wide social basis in society and cannot count on its support. The Opposition’s representatives say that the elections aren’t to be recognised owing to low participation. This fact only attests to society’s widespread apathy as regards ongoing events and not to the Opposition’s strength, or rather, the authority’s power.
Anyway, Lukashenko’s priority might be even a formal manifestation people’s love of their leader. That’s why election participation is as inevitable as the support of official political course. The entire state propaganda machinery was aimed at convincing the people to take part in the elections and persuading society as well as western observers that election participation exceeded 50 per cent. Therefore election participation reached 75 per cent of voters the majority of which “voted” obviously for official candidates. This means that society “voted indirectly” for Lukashenko himself and confirmed the legitimacy of his power.
Nevertheless, other possible causes for the authority refusing to allow the Opposition into the Parliament are to be mentioned:
1. A hard and improved system of falsifications and election control has been created in Belarus. It serves as the support of political system’s legitimacy in society. The utilisation of the given system in order to back the Opposition may disorientate its elements and lead to severe internal failures in the process of falsification and manipulation in the future, for example, during presidential elections.
2. In the course of last ten years, political regime has made everything conceivable to push the Opposition out of political room and public policy and to rid it of the possibility to present itself. In the case of parliament entry, the Opposition would suspend the information and political blockade established by the state. The inhabitants would learn that there’s an opposition in Belarus which isn’t marginalised, but very representative. It means that the authority lies and that not everything in the country is as good as propaganda and ideology have been describing it. In the spirit of official image, the Opposition is an enemy of Belarusian people. If this is so, then why do the people vote for enemies? Society must be convinced that there’s no other alternative except for Lukashenko.
Opposition’s parliament entry would become a psychological sign of political regime’s weakness. This would set internal as well as external preconditions for its dissolution. Impression that Lukashenko is afraid and therefore he chooses dialogue with the West and the Opposition would be created. This would subsequently increase the Opposition’s authority within society and contribute to its internal consolidation and step up the inflow of new human resources as well as the animation of protest moods in society itself. In the history of authoritarian regimes, there are many examples of small political concessions, made by authoritarian systems, necessarily leading to major upheaval in the entire system or even its demise.
We may hardly assume that current authority has a group of analysts who would analyse political processes and prospects thus much precisely. Most probably Lukashenko feels instinctively potential threats to his power and prefers to keep it under his control. System change might rid him of full control over political room. Moreover, according to his psychological profile Lukashenko isn’t willing to share authority and influences on formal as well as symbolical level. From the psychological point of view, Lukashenko isn’t prepared for any compromises. For him, accommodating the Opposition would mean losing internal conviction of his own power and might.
The acceptance of several opposition members as Parliament ones wouldn’t necessarily mean an irreversible lifting of sanctions and the improvement of relations between the West and the East. Lukashenko has no guarantees that the West would recognise him as state president. Furthermore, current geopolitical situation in the world with regard to the events in Georgia has enabled Lukashenko to make the West face the fact that unless the sanctions are lifted, Belarus will recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The Belarusian President strives to preserve room for wavering between the West and the East. He relies on existent geopolitical conflict between both sides and not the improvement of innerpolitical situation in his country. The elections have confirmed again that Belarusian regime doesn’t intend to conduct democratic changes in the country. Society trusts the existent system enough and prefers to keep itself aloof from politics. Anyway, the Opposition isn’t able to offer the Belarusians anything but an abstract perception of liberty and EU integration.
(1) Oppozicii dali šans.
(2) Atmosfera vyborov po sravneniju s prošloj izbirateľnoj kampaniej ulučšilas’ – mnenie politika.
(3) Tancy s kozlami.
(4) Mogilevskie vedomosti, 10th September, 2008.