Belarus also held parliamentary “elections” this weekend.
Going into the elections, supporters of President Lukashenko and his government held all 110 seats in the country’s House of Representatives: there was no parliamentary opposition.
As of 9:00 this morning, it was clear that government supporters had won… all 110 seats in the House of Representatives. There will be, again, no parliamentary opposition.
Most of the news articles on this election have focused on how Lukashenko is trying to improve relations with the West, or how the opposition was divided, or how the OECD is going to pass judgment on the elections tomorrow (wonder what they’ll say?), or such. But — taking a step back and trying to look at the medium and long term? — what’s interesting is that Lukashenko is pre-emptively making it very, very difficult for Belarus to have a post-Lukashenko transition.
Broadly speaking, the post-authoritarian transitions of the last twenty years have gone best in those countries where there was some sort of formal and legitimized opposition. — That’s for broad values of “opposition”. Hungary in 1988 didn’t have much of a Parliamentary opposition in the Western sense, but it allowed a modest diversity of opinions and some open criticism of the government and its policies, and there could occasionally be debates whose outcomes were not pre-ordained by the government. This was in sharp contrast to, say, Romania or Albania, where the Parliaments were echo chambers and almost completely without agency.
Lukashenko is keeping himself firmly in power by — among other things — methodically eliminating plausible alternatives. If authoritarian rule were to collapse in Belarus tomorrow, there’d be no formal source of democratic legitimacy. Belarus’ Parliament is useless for any purpose but upholding a single strongman… and that’s a feature, not a bug.
A new Parliament could be elected, of course. But it would have to learn the habits and structures of representative democracy completely from scratch. Recent history shows this is harder than it looks.