Elections in Belarus: Um…

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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Governments and parties and tagged by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

7 thoughts on “Elections in Belarus: Um…

  1. The OSCE has in fact already published its preliminary findings: http://www.osce.org/item/33272.html

    Unsurprisingly state TV is emphasising the minor improvements rather than the negative conclusions.

    It is hardly a revelation that Lukashenko is making it difficult for Belarus to have a post-Lukashenko transition – why on earth would it be in his interest to make it easy?!

    He remains the longest serving political leader in Europe thanks to preventing any potential economic or regional centres of power from emerging, pre-empting the emergence of any successor through regular rotation of cadres and ministers, successfully playing off Russia against the EU far more deftly than many give him credit, and all to often sitting back and allowing the opposition to squabble amongst themselves.

  2. There are always two or three people in the second row to step in if the leader “disappears” for natural or not-so-natural reasons. Those might then be Moscow controlled, but this is mere speculation.

    Coming back to Douglas’ article, I would react that there is not much hope for transition in Belarus, although freeing some opposition leaders made Westerners react like a new democratic star was rising on the Union’s eastern shores. But this is not new, Minsk has given almost no positive signs and neither signs of weakness, so transition during the last 15 years never seemed to be an option.

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Belarus: Parliamentary elections no way to reforms

  4. Pingback: By The Fault » Blog Archive » Linking Up with the World

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