Is there any point in September's parliamentary elections?
Although the parliamentary elections have become a mere formality since late 1990s each time Belarusian opposition actively discusses whether it makes sense to participate in them. The Belarusian opposition tried both options. The outcome was the same — mass falsifications and no opposition in the parliament.
Two years ago, the authorities changed the election legislation. For the first time the candidates will participate in short debates broadcast by state-owned media and are officially allowed to use more funds for their campaigns. Otherwise, the course of the campaign promises a deja-vu.
Lukashenka likes to underline his understanding of the elections meaning: "We have learnt to hold elections as a festival for Belarusian people." Last month the United Civic Party proposed to abolish the anyway fake elections and appoint deputies. Does it makes sense to participate in September 2012 elections in a dictatorship?
Who will (not) count the votes?
Very few representatives of opposition and civil society managed to enter the election commissions. The authorities particularly strictly controlled the formation of divisional election commissions (the commissions of the first level) — where actually the votes are being stolen. Out of 233 candidates proposed by the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (PBNF) to join such ground-level commissions only 13 have been included. The situation is the same with other oppositional parties and organisations.
On the other hand, the authorities got rid of the previous years’ commission chairpersons who found themselves on the EU black list. The regime demonstrated more relaxed approach in formation of the higher, second level district election commissions which are not engaged in votes counting. Yet, even in these "toothless" commissions the representatives of opposition make up less than 1%.
Old stooges fill the commissions — the majority makes up the delegates of the regime's party Belaya Rus', state-affiliated trade unions and the Red Cross Society. The Belarusian ruler did not hide his control over the election results and publicly demanded that a third of deputies in new parliament should be the MP from the previous one.
Disunity among opposition
Opposition in not united in its stance on the elections. The PBNF and Milinkievich's movement "For Freedom" are going to participate in the process. Other opposition politicians — like the still unregistered Christian Democrats — chose to boycott the elections because they see elections as a show staged by the authorities which should not be legitimized by participation of the opposition.
Of course, even those who want to participate declared their not to be elected. Aliaksandr Milinkievich, the 2006 presidential candidate and the leader of the movement "For Freedom", stated: "The main goal is to remind Aliaksandr Lukashenka that there are no honest elections. We have set a task to show the people that there is a positive alternative [proposed by opposition]."
Imprisoned ex-presidential candidate Mikola Statkievich also urged to participate in the elections. The regime has sentenced the Social Democrat politician in May 2011 to six years’ imprisonment. He remains the only ex-presidential candidate who is still imprisoned.
According to Statkievich: "The task of the participation of the democratic forces in the parliamentary election shall be use of the legal opportunities for national reach-out campaign, holding coordinated protests throughout the country in the form of meeting with voters, collection of falsification proofs. Lack of participation of the opposition in elections is not a ground for their non-acceptance by international community, as well as the participation is not a ground for their acceptance."
The leader of the United Civic Party Anatol Liabiedzka talking recently to the RFE/RL emphasised that the opposition should prepare for the 2015 presidential elections.
The oppositional parties use the election campaign to meet voters or collect signatures for petitions to release political prisoners. Following their registration, the candidates will have access to state-controlled media — something rare in Belarusian politics since the late 1990s. They are granted five minutes on TV and radio to participate in debates, as well as an opportunity to publish their programs in national and regional newspapers. For the first time the candidates may legally use their own funds to finance the campaign.
Of course, the role of these elections is limited also because of the parliament's function. It is a rubber-stamp institution. According to political scientist Andrej Jahorau, the parliament initiated and drafted only one law over the last four years — the Law on Protection of Animals.
Lukashenka cares about elections illusion
Despite numerous cases of fraud and falsifications most Belarusians still participate in elections. According to the NISEPI June survey, more than a half of Belarusians are willing to vote, about 20% are declaring that they would not participate, and just 14% support the boycott proposed by the radical opposition. Perhaps they see is at one of very few ways to somehow participate in political decision-making. Facing rigged electoral procedures, people see the regime's lie.
Lukashenka cares about the forthcoming elections. He often mentions them and urges the state officials to pay attention to this event. The history shows that even in authoritarian regimes rigged elections may cause people's rage just because of their scale. As political analyst Valiery Karbalievich noticed, "any elections are a challenge to the authorities, as in a certain way they create a legitimacy crisis."
The regime referred to the level of participation in elections as a proof of its legitimacy. Officially, in 2004, 90.14% voted in parliamentary elections; in 2008 76.7% did. Authorities used pressure to get these figures, forcing to vote vulnerable groups such as students in dormitories or people employed by state organisations. One of the most efficient pressure mechanisms was preliminary voting which enables the regime both to control participation and stuff the boxes with falsified ballots. Five days before the actual election date, 26.3% voters casted their ballots in 2008.
Opposition as ñarnival
Opposition politicians should go to the local level and systematically work with people's grievances. That means showing people how their problems are linked to the dictatorship and which solutions proposes the democratic opposition. Good example is the campaign organised by the movement "Tell the Truth" against the Chinese industrial park.
At the same time only the hardcore opposition supporters will be attracted by unrealistic calls and campaigns such as "For Fair Elections Without Lukashenka." The United Civic Party organised it two weeks ago in Barysau. The authorities punished the organisers and created the picture of persecution. The action, however, hardly had any effect on mobilising Belarusians against dictatorship.
Unfortunately, in recent years the struggle against the regime too often ends in some postmodernist performances: like the scandal action of Ukrainian FEMEN in Minsk and Swedish teddy-bears bombing. Opposition and international media enthusiastically covered these artistic performances. But in reality such artistic undertakings may look exciting but will never topple any regime. They may easily become a justification to avoid working with ordinary people.
But in order to achieve changes the people should see the link between their everyday problems — unemployment, rising prices — and the lack of freedom. This is where the opposition politicians should join the game and patiently explain their own solutions to the people of Belarus, not just to foreign journalists.