Vladimir Nikolsky/Reuters
A woman casts her vote into a portable ballot box during the parliamentary elections near her house in the village of Slobodschina, about 19 miles northeast of Minsk, September 23. Belarus voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election which was likely to reinforce hardline President Alexander Lukashenko's grip on the small former-Soviet country despite a boycott call from the dispirited opposition.

Amid opposition boycott, Belarus leader praises 'boring and calm' election

Belarus opposition parties boycotted, urging people to go fishing instead of voting in parliamentary elections marred by intimidation and fraud. President Lukashenko called the move cowardly.

Belarussians voted for a new parliament Sunday in one of the most empty and one-sided elections to be held in the former Soviet republic of about 10 million since the demise of the USSR.        

The country's two main opposition parties were boycotting the voting, citing fraud and impossible conditions for campaigning. About 40 candidates from small leftist parties are still in the running, but are given little chance.

Most Belarussian observers say the token parliament's 110 seats will almost certainly be filled with loyalists of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus in an increasingly top-down and heavyhanded way for the past 18 years.

Mr. Lukashenko treated journalists to his usual colorful jibes after voting Sunday, with his 7-year-old son by his side, in Minsk.

"They are cowards who have nothing to say to their people," he said, referring to the decision of the United Civic and Belarussian People's Front parties, and four smaller groups, to ask people to go fishing or mushroom-gathering rather than participate in a "rubber-stamping farce."

Explaining their choice to pull out of the election, the United Civic party pointed out last week that 33 out of 35 of its candidates were barred from using their legally guaranteed television time, while no newspaper would publish the party program as required by law.

"Either we restore genuine elections of the president and parliament in Belarus, or it is better to cancel this imitation of democracy we are witnessing," United Civic leader Anatol Lyabedzka told Radio Liberty last week.

They also argued that many key opposition leaders remain in prison, including almost all of the candidates who ran against Lukashenko in presidential polls that were won by Lukashenko in a deeply disputed landslide.

Accelerating crackdown

Since then, a crackdown against all forms of civil dissent has picked up in Belarus, including large-scale arrests of people who participate in hand-clapping flash mobs to protest Lukashenko's tough rule, and harsh measures directed against anyone allegedly associated with a summer teddy-bear drop initiated by a Swedish group that hoped to mobilize the power of laughter against Belarus's strongman.

"Every political race follows certain laws, and everyone knows that," Lukashenko told journalists Sunday. "You're a coward or a pseudo-politician if you don't go all the way to the finish. If you have negative information, bring it up when the election is over. First you need to test your popularity and learn if people know you at all. Try and see if you should continue leading your party or give room for somebody else," he added.        

After the 2010 post-election crackdown, Belarus faced increased sanctions from a disappointed European Union – which had promised better relations if there were fair presidential polls – and even a colder shoulder from its only ally, Russia.

Relations with Russia have improved, and Lukashenko told journalists that he hopes ties with Europe will get better as a result of Sunday's voting.

"I have to hope for improvement. But we do not hold elections for the West, the real 'author' of the vote is the Belarussian nation," Lukashenko told the Russian official RIA-Novosti news agency.

"If this time anyone criticizes and shows suspicion about the elections, then I do not know what other acts we could possibly pass....  Let them be jealous of our elections. Boring and calm elections – this is a bliss for our nation. We do not need revolutions, clashes or civic outrages," he added. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Amid opposition boycott, Belarus leader praises 'boring and calm' election
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today