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Europe

Opinion: 'A farcical election'

Unsurprisingly, the parliamentary election in Belarus was a farcical exercise. Europe has long cast aside any illusions about the true nature of the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, says Ingo Mannteufel.

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Ingo Mannteufel, Head of the DW’s Russia service

The news that Belarus held parliamentary elections is untrue. The so-called vote was nothing but a farce: there was no free and fair registration of candidates, no independent election observers or vote counting, political parties were denied free and fair access to the media, and, last but not least, there were widespread repressions against regime critics or potential opponents. None of this comes as a surprise because President Alexander Lukashenko has had a firm authoritarian grip on the former Soviet republic for the past 18 years. The question that does arise, though, is: Who does Lukashenko still want to fool with this election travesty?

The Belarusian population has known for a long time that it has no political clout. Worse even: The savage government crackdown on opposition protests in the aftermath of the contested 2010 election has intimidated the population. Political apathy and public withdrawal is the most common reaction. If Lukashenko can point to any voter participation at all, it's only because everybody is running scared of what might happen if they don't go to the polls.

Lukashenko is also most certainly not carrying out these mock elections for the opposition - he has made clear on several occasions that he despises the opposition and is determined to maintain his stranglehold.

Until now, it was assumed that President Lukashenko's election exercise is performed for the European audience - a necessary evil for his seesaw policy between the European Union and Russia. In the past, these elections were useful in deceiving some naïve Europeans that the regime in Belarus was becoming more liberal and European.

Four years ago, this deception actually worked: The parliamentary elections of 2008 were just as unfair or undemocratic as this year, but many European politicians believed - be it wishful thinking or geopolitical reasoning - that political change was possible in Belarus. Following the 2010 elections, it began to dawn on the vast majority in Europe that there won't be any democratization in Belarus as long as Lukashenko is at the helm. In Germany it took some time for certain people to grasp this, but in the meantime a more realistic assessment of Lukashenko's regime should be commonplace in Europe. Lukashenko would do better to dispense with the public rendition of his election farce because, by now, nobody in Europe has any illusions about the true nature of his authoritarian regime.

The greatest fans of the Belarusian election farce are probably sitting in Russia. From Moscow's perspective it's probably a rather useful fig leaf that the elections in Belarus were even less fair and free than the controlled “elections” in Russia. The Kremlin can argue towards Europe and the Russian people that compared with Belarus things aren't that bad in Russia. President Putin will no doubt be well pleased when Lukashenko is once again dubbed “the last remaining dictator in Europe” in the coming weeks.

The dictum that the key to Belarus lies in Moscow has rung true for years, but the Europeans should discard the illusion that the Kremlin has any intention of changing the situation there. Not that Lukashenko is popular in the Kremlin - indeed no, the Russian president apparently even has a great dislike for him. Rather it's expedient for Russian policy to have such an authoritarian country without any European perspective wedged between itself and Europe. And that's why Lukashenko has free reign.

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