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Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko organizes a mock legislative election

The illusion persists.

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Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko organizes a mock legislative election

The illusion persists. Belarus, governed since 1994 by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko, is holding legislative elections this Sunday, January 25. 110 members of the lower house of representatives must be renewed. There is little doubt about the outcome of the vote. “Of the sixteen parties officially registered before the 2020 presidential election, only four are still authorized. And they compete in loyalty to the government,” underlines, acidly, Pavel Slunkin, Belarusian diplomat in office from 2014 to 2020. That year, Alexander Lukashenko proclaimed his victory with 80% of the votes. His opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, does not recognize the results and very significant demonstrations shake the country.

Alexander Lukashenko ferociously represses any democratic desire. Her opponent fled to Lithuania, and formed a government in exile, lip-supported by the West. France, however, denounced “fraudulent elections”. Nearly 500,000 Belarusians, including most of the elite, are fleeing the country, mainly to Poland. In 2022, the autocrat passed, again with 80% of the votes, a constitutional referendum which prevents a candidate from running for president if he has resided abroad in the twenty years preceding the election. A provision which therefore prohibits the presence of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa.

The suspense for this legislative election is therefore rather moderate. Especially since political repression after 2020 continued. 1,420 political prisoners are locked up, according to the human rights association Viasna. “There has been a small spike in arrests in recent weeks,” notes Ronan Hervouet*, sociologist at the University of Bordeaux. Especially since a certain number of families, who are difficult to identify, do not want to describe their imprisoned loved one as a “political prisoner” for fear of the mistreatment that could result.

Also read: Ukrainian War: “Putin wants to prevent Belarus from leaning towards the West”

For this election, Alexander Lukashenko's supporters are running directly under the label of the Belaïa Rous' party. The autocrat, like his Russian counterpart, has always been an independent candidate. “Belarus will witness a political ritual organized by the government where all the actors will be 100% loyal to the regime, but if, virtually, they present themselves as being from another party,” adds Pavel Slunkin who recalls that “10 to 15 people are arrested every day.

Belarus and its Russian neighbor signed a treaty in 1999 which created a union of the two states, with a supreme authority, a Parliament and even an audit chamber. These institutions should one day allow the merger of the two countries into a confederal entity. At the beginning of last April, a few days before the meeting of the two heads of state, a document from the Russian secret services predicting a takeover of Belarus in 2030 was timely revealed. “2030 seems an interesting horizon, because Alexander Lukashenko is getting older. But the situation in Russia, as in Belarus, is so chaotic that it is impossible to predict even the end of the year,” said Samantha de Bendern, a researcher specializing in Russia at Le Figaro. Chatham House.

The links, while awaiting a merger, are tightening. Russia announced that it wanted to install nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, used the country as a rear base for its invasion of Ukraine and sent Wagner's rebel mercenaries there. “Belarus is no longer a sovereign nation, it is 100% dependent on Russia,” complains Pavel Slunkin. If Vladimir Putin does not show any annexationist inclinations towards Belarus for the moment, Alexander Lukashenko's room for maneuver is gradually reducing. Until now, he was trying to dance a dangerous tango between the West and Russia. But Western sanctions against his regime push him into Russian arms.

*Ronan Hervouet is the author of The Suspended Revolution. Belarusians against the authoritarian state published by Pleins Jours (2023).

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