It would be better if the restoration of the Belarusian parliament’s Special Guest status in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) had been made conditional on the conduct of a free and fair election, Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, told BelaPAN.
On June 23, PACE voted to restore the status only after Minsk declares a moratorium on the death penalty. Mr. Lyabedzka attended the Assembly’s session on behalf of the United Pro-democratic Forces, a major opposition coalition in Belarus.
"For us, it is important that the highest possible requirements be established for the Belarusian authorities, and that as many conditions as possible be laid down directly or indirectly," he said. "We want Belarus to eventually obtain full membership in the Council of Europe because this would give people access to an independent judiciary. The authorities are not interested in going beyond Special Guest status. They don’t need the new responsibilities that membership in the Council of Europe would entail. They want to obtain the status because this would allow them to say that all problems have been solved."
The declaration of a moratorium on the death penalty is not a "high price for Lukashenka" to pay for the status, Mr. Lyabedzka said.
The Belarusian leader's "love of referendums" has forced him into a difficult dilemma, as consistency calls for holding a new referendum on the death penalty, "but given what our people are like, they would not be too upset if the government simply decided everything for them," he said.
More than 80 percent of those who took part in a 1996 national referendum reportedly voted against abolishing the death penalty.
Mr. Lyabedzka expressed confidence that Minsk would not roll back its dialogue with the West. "Lukashenka is now more interested in Europe than Europe in Lukashenka," he noted. "Of course, he is mainly interested in the European Union and EU programs. But everyone understands that Belarus will first have to pass PACE and the Council of Europe, which are like a porch to the EU."
"As for PACE and the Council of Europe themselves, Lukashenka isn't interested in them in the least," Mr. Lyabedzka said. "They require financial contributions, don’t give money but constantly give recommendations."