|Wednesday, 22 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 200, 00-10-16
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 4, No. 200, 16 October 2000
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 PEOPLE'S PARTY REJECTS ARMENIAN PREMIER'S CONDITIONS FOR PRESERVING MAJORITY BLOC...Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), which is the junior partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, told supporters in Kotayk province on 14 October that he refuses to share responsibility for the performance of the cabinet headed by Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian, who heads the Republican Party of Armenia, the HZhK's partner within Miasnutiun, has repeatedly made the survival of Miasnutiun contingent on a pledge by the HZhK of support for his cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2000). Demirchian said that the collapse of Miasnutiun would necessitate preterm parliamentary elections, adding that any attempt by Markarian to forge a new parliamentary majority without the HZhK would be illegitimate. LF
 ...AS ONE OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR PRETERM ELECTIONSOn 13 October, Artashes Geghamian, leader of the left-wing National Accord Party, told supporters in Yerevan that Markarian's cabinet should acknowledge its ineffectiveness and resign, and that President Robert Kocharian should dissolve parliament and call preterm elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Geghamian said it is wrong to hope for a reconciliation between the HZhK and HHK, arguing that Miasnutiun lost its credibility after the leaders of its two component parties were murdered in the 27 October parliament shootings. LF
 DASHNAKTSUTIUN INFORM ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OF CONCERNS OVER ECONOMIC SITUATIONMeeting in Yerevan on 13 October with President Kocharian, leading members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) made clear their concern at the ongoing lack of improvement in the socio-economic situation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. HHD bureau member Vahan Hovannisian warned that what he termed "the hysterical atmosphere" in the country will change only if there are improvements in the economic situation and a strengthening of the rule of law. The HHD has been considered part of Kocharian's power base since February 1998 when he lifted the ban on its activities imposed three years earlier by his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrossian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). LF
 CORRECTION:"RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously reported on 12 October on the basis of a dispatch from RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that the UN World Food Program has begun distributing drought relief aid in northern Armenia. Such distribution is still in the planning stages.
 OSCE WELCOMES LIFTING OF AZERBAIJANI ELECTION RESTRICTIONS...OSCE Chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner has hailed the Azerbaijan Central Electoral Commission's 8 October decision to revoke its decision barring eight Azerbaijani parties from contesting the party list seats in the 5 November parliamentary ballot, Interfax and Turan reported on 13 October. She said that decision is evidence of Azerbaijan's commitment to democratization. LF
 ...WHILE BANNED CANDIDATES STAGE PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONTwenty people whom Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission refused registration to contend the poll in single-mandate constituencies picketed the commission's Baku headquarters on 14 October, demanding their registration, Turan reported. They read an appeal to the commission and to the foreign diplomatic community in Baku accusing local election commissions of giving preference to candidates loyal to the current authorities. LF
 RALLY BY FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS BANNEDPolice on 14 October prevented members of the Civil Unity party--which supports former President Ayaz Mutalibov--from holding an unsanctioned meeting in Baku, Turan reported. Party secretary Elchin Gambarov told the news agency that the demonstration was intended to protest the Justice Ministry's refusal to formally register the party, which was founded in April of this year. LF
 DUTCH COMPANY TO MANAGE AZERBAIJANI ALUMINUM GROUPFondel Metals has won the tender for a 25-year contract to manage Azerbaijan's Azeraluminy after pledging to invest $1 billion in that company, Interfax reported on 13 October quoting Azerbaijan's State Property Ministry. Russian Aluminum, which Russian observers had predicted would win control of Azeraluminy, bid only $124 million. Fondel anticipates that it will succeed in increasing output to between 100,000 and 130,000 tons within three months. Output in 1999 was only 1,200 tons, according to "Vremya novostei" on 7 September. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN POSTPONES VISIT TO IRANA visit to Iran by Heidar Aliev, most recently scheduled for this week, has been postponed indefinitely, Turan reported on 13 October quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Halaf Halafov. That visit has been postponed several times over the past 12 months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2000). LF
 GEORGIA-EU COOPERATION COUNCIL MEETSAt its second session in Luxembourg on 10 October, the Georgian-EU Cooperation Council assessed the process of judicial reform and democratization in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 13 October. Other topics of discussion included regional cooperation and regional conflicts. The EU delegation called on Tbilisi to strengthen protection of human rights and to intensify its efforts to combat corruption. LF
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONCERNED WITH HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GEORGIAElene Tevdoradze, who chairs the Georgian parliament's commission on human rights, said in Tbilisi on 15 October that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is increasingly concerned over human rights abuses in Georgia, especially on the part of the police, Caucasus and ITAR-TASS reported. Tevdoradze quoted CE Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles as also expressing concern over inadequate employment opportunities and medical services and over the plight of displaced Georgians from Abkhazia. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN TO COMPLETE METRO LINE IN FORMER CAPITALKazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists in Almaty on 14 October that the government plans to resume and complete the construction of a metro line in that city by 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. Construction was shelved following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The government will provide $50 million towards the cost of the project and seek foreign investment to cover the balance. Nazarbaev did not indicate which construction company will undertake the project. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S UIGHUR MINORITY ABJURS SEPARATISMKazakhstan's National Assembly, which comprises representatives from the country's various ethnic groups, convened on 12 October to discuss the 28 September shootout in Almaty between security forces and ethnic Uighurs from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2000 and "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 13 October 2000). Farkhad Hassanov, one of the leaders of Kazakhstan's Uighur community, deplored the growing tendency of the Kazakh media to label all Uighurs as "terrorists." He denied any links between Kazakhstan's Uighurs and Uighur separatists in Xinjiang. LF
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO COORDINATE ELECTION OBSERVATIONThree Kyrgyz presidential candidates--Almaz Atembaev, Omurbek Tekebaev, and Melis Eshimkanov--have decided to form joint teams of observers to monitor the 29 October ballot and vote count, Interfax reported on 14 October citing a statement by Tekebaev's campaign staff. The statement further claimed that incumbent President Askar Akaev has forfeited popular trust and would poll less than 25 percent of the vote in a fair ballot. It says that realizing this, Akaev's campaign staff are resorting to "unlawful methods" and plan to facilitate his re-election by means of widespread falsification. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN SIGNALS READINESS TO RECOGNIZE TALIBANGeneral Bolot Djanuzakov, who is secretary of the Kyrgyz National Security Council, told journalists in Bishkek on 13 October that Kyrgyzstan will recognize any Afghan government that has the support of that country's population, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the Kyrgyz leadership advocates peace negotiations between the warring parties in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan last week similarly signaled its readiness to recognize a Taliban government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2000). Djanuzakov said there is no force within Kyrgyzstan capable of destabilizing the country, and that the only such threats to security and stability are external ones. LF
 LIBEL TRIAL AGAINST KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER BEGINSBusinessman and El Bei-Bechara party leader Daniyar Usenov went on trial in Bishkek on 13 October on charges of libeling former Communist Party First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Usubaliev is demanding 60 million soms (some $1.25 million) in compensation for remarks Usenov made about him during a TV interview in March, and for which Usenov has already apologized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2000). LF
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS MULTIPARTY SYSTEM PREMATURE...Addressing the final session of a conference on Turkmenistan's cultural heritage on 13 October, Saparmurat Niyazov again said that his country is not yet mature enough to make the transition to a multiparty democracy, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Niyazov denied that anyone in Turkmenistan has been arrested for his/her political views, or that there are any political prisoners in Turkmenistan. Human rights organizations have documented the sentencing of numerous persons for criticizing Niyazov's policies. "We do not impose any morale, view, or ideology on our people by force," Niyazov added. LF
 ...RULES OUT EARLY PRIVATIZATION OF OIL, GAS SECTORSNiyazov also said in his 13 October closing address that Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry will not be privatized within the next 10-15 years, ITAR- TASS reported. He said those industries will remain a key component of the country's economy and contribute funds to the social sector. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 LIBERALS' DRNOVSEK SET TO FORM NEW SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT...With just over 92 percent of the votes counted, Janez Drnovsek's Liberal Democrats (LDS) have nearly 36 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections held on 15 October, Ljubljana's 24-UR radio reported. In second place are Janez Jansa's conservative Social Democrats (SDS) with nearly 16 percent. Third place goes to the former communists (ZLSD), who have just over 12 percent, followed very closely by the Christian Democratic coalition (SLS+SKD). Drnovsek and Jansa have previously ruled out a coalition between their two ideologically opposed parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2000). Drnovsek, who has been prime minister for most of the time since independence in 1991, is expected to form a coalition with the ZLSD and with the Pensioners' Party (DESUS). The three together will control approximately 53 percent of the 90 seats in the legislature, which is the center of political power in Slovenia. All mainstream Slovenian parties are agreed on the central goals of joining the EU and NATO. PM
 ...AND OUTLINES GOALS...Drnovsek claimed victory in a statement in Ljubljana on 16 October, AP reported. He said that "the result confirms confidence voters have in our policy towards quicker integration into Western European structures [such as the EU and NATO]. We pledged a solid and stable government, and we believe that it will be much easier to achieve this now than four years ago, " he added. Liberal deputy leader Igor Bavcar added: "We'll have to finish the process of privatizing two state-owned banks, insurance companies, and of some infrastructure companies, like National Telekom." PM
 ...AS BAJUK EXITSThe daily "Vecer" wrote on 16 October that the fractious campaign of Drnovsek's opponents could serve as a textbook for how to lose elections. The main loser, outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk, served in office for only four months. His was the shortest-lived government since independence. Bajuk was the only top-level leader of independent Slovenia not to have a communist background. His New Slovenia party was allied with Jansa but split the Christian Democratic vote with the SLS+SKD. PM
 KOSTUNICA SEEKS ARRANGEMENT WITH MONTENEGROYugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica will go to Montenegro early this week, probably on 17 October, Montena-fax news agency reported. He will meet with President Milo Djukanovic, whose government does not recognize the validity of the 24 September elections that put Kostunica in power. Kostunica wants to secure Djukanovic's recognition of his authority as well as his participation in an upcoming meeting of the Supreme Defense Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2000). Kostunica said on Serbian television on 15 October: "I know that the Montenegrin ruling coalition represents the majority in the republic and it did not run in the elections." AP reported on 16 October that Kostunica is expected to send Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic to Montenegro in the course of the day. PM
 WHAT KIND OF NEW FEDERAL YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT?Djukanovic's top aide, Miodrag Vukovic, said in Podgorica on 14 October that only a government of experts would be acceptable to his side. Elsewhere, Predrag Bulatovic, who is the vice president of the rival Socialist People's Party (SNP), said that the "whole world" has recognized Kostunica as Yugoslav president and that it is time that Djukanovic do likewise, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kostunica said on state- run television on 15 October that he is obliged to work with the SNP because it alone of the major Montenegrin parties participated in the elections and hence is represented in the federal parliament. Kostunica added that the SNP may eventually choose to accept a prime minister or cabinet members who do not belong to it, but that he has no legal option but to work with the SNP. The constitution specifies that a Serbian president must have a Montenegrin prime minister. SNP Vice President Zoran Zizic said in Podgorica, however, that his party cannot accept a government of experts lest it extradite former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague, Montena-fax reported. PM
 MONTENEGRIN LEADERSHIP SHOWING TUDJMAN-LIKE INSECURITY?Vukovic noted on 15 October in Podgorica that Serbia still has much to do before democracy can be said to have taken hold there. He stressed that the two republics must renegotiate the legal basis of their relationship as two equal polities, Montena-fax reported. Vukovic called for the new state to be the "alliance of the sovereign and internationally recognized states of Montenegro and Serbia." Observers note that this self-conscious language, which is reminiscent of that used by the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, suggests that the Montenegrin leadership is deeply worried that its Western partners will force it into a subordinate relationship to Kostunica. PM
 U.S. URGES MONTENEGRO TO FIND NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH SERBIAAfter meeting with Djukanovic in Podgorica on 13 October, President Bill Clinton's Balkan envoy James O'Brien said: "We remain steadfast to our commitments in the entire region, to our commitments to the democratic government of Montenegro. We believe Serbia, Montenegro, and the federal government should enter good faith negotiations on maintaining Yugoslavia. The U.S. does not favor independence for Montenegro," AP reported. The envoy added that Montenegrin talk of independence "does not help integration and democracy." Djukanovic, for his part, said in a statement that both sides "agreed on the importance of the changes" in Belgrade and on the "utmost importance" of strengthening its new leadership. On 15 October, pro-independence Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said that O'Brien's statement came as no surprise. Burzan noted that Washington has sought for the past 10 years to "pacify" the Balkans, Montena-fax reported. He stressed that Podgorica and Belgrade will "without doubt" work out a new legal basis for their common state. PM
 SERBIAN CROWN PRINCE CONGRATULATES KOSTUNICAAleksandar Karadjordjevic arrived in Belgrade on 15 October to a warm welcome by monarchists, including Kostunica and Belgrade Mayor Milan Protic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). Protic said that a referendum on the restoration of the monarchy could be held "very soon," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported. He added that monarchists should respect the outcome of the vote. Aleksandar told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that he returned to "see my people and give them moral support. As for other issues, [we will deal with them] in due time." PM
 MILOSEVIC BACKERS CONTINUE TO STALL ON SERBIAN GOVERNMENTSupporters of Kostunica and leaders of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia met in Belgrade on 16 October for the latest in a series of talks aimed at resolving the question of power-sharing in the Serbian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2000). Democratic Opposition leader Vladan Batic told Reuters: "We expect everything to be solved if we are serious people." PM
 ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS WIN IN SECOND ROUND OF LOCAL VOTE...The governing Socialists are assured of an easy victory in most of the 144 municipalities and communes where a second round of elections took place on 15 October, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The largest opposition party, the Democrats, boycotted the ballot to protest what they called fraud and irregularities in the first round (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 13 October 2000). Most international observers described both rounds as free and fair. PM
 ...AMID ETHNIC TENSIONS IN THE SOUTHAttention in the 15 October Albanian local elections is centered on Himara in the south, where the Socialists and Democrats have joined forces in hopes of thwarting the mayoral candidacy of a member of the ethnic-Greek minority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2000). An RFE/RL correspondent reported that tensions there are high. Many ethnic Albanians resent what they regard as an all too close relationship between local Greek leaders and Athens, much as Bosnian Muslims resent the ties between Herzegovinian Croats and Zagreb, the correspondent added. Greece, for its part, protested on 14 October that Albanian border officials were refusing to let ethnic Greek guest workers in Greece go home to Albania to vote, AP reported. On 16 October, the Socialists claimed victory, but local Greek leaders charged fraud, AP reported. PM
 MACEDONIA REPORTS ON MILITARY TO NATOThe Macedonian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 13 October that Ambassador to NATO Jovan Tegovski has given NATO Assistant Secretary- General for Political Affairs Klaus Kleiber Macedonia's National Annual Program for Association with NATO. The document contains analyses and outlines of concrete projects regarding Macedonia's preparations for full NATO membership, MIC news agency reported. Macedonia is already a participant in the Partnership for Peace program. PM
 MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES ELECTION VIOLENCEMembers of opposition parties returned to the legislature on 13 October after the governing coalition agreed to place on the agenda the issue of violence in the recent second round of local elections, MIC news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2000).
 ROMANIAN PREMIER CAMPAIGNS 'WESTERN STYLE'...Flanked by his wife and two children, Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 15 October told supporters of his presidential bid that he wants to be "a factor of stability" and promote "dialogue" in a society that is torn by intolerance due to its communist legacy, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Isarescu said he is convinced the "battle with the painful past" can be won and that Romania will be able to develop into a modern society with a functioning market economy. His expertise, he said, will be put to this service if elected to the highest office. Isarescu named achieving NATO membership and accession to the EU as his top foreign policy objectives. MS
 ...RESPONDS 'EASTERN STYLE...'On 15 October, Isarescu demanded that the Prosecutor-General's Office investigate Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu concerning the mayor's allegation that one of the presidential candidates now running has been in the pay of Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, a Romanian businessman with ties to the collapsed National Investment Fund (FNI), Mediafax reported. Basescu responded that he is ready "anytime" to provide the office with the information he has (most likely to refer to Alliance for Romania chairman Teodor Melescanu) but added that the office should also investigate Isarescu in connection with his responsibility as National Bank governor for the collapse of several Romanian banks. MS
 ...AND ACTS AS AN INDEPENDENTOn 15 October, Isarescu told journalists in Iasi that the government will not use funds from the state budget to compensate FNI investors who lost their savings. He said the amount of compensation would depend on the sums to be recuperated from those who made profits from the collapsed scheme and will "in no way" be above five monthly average salaries. One day earlier, in what is a practical defiance of the parliament's resolution to compensate the investors, the cabinet decided that the compensation would be partial and implemented via a bank yet to be designated. For this purpose, the government would underwrite a loan to the bank, which would then recuperate the money from defrauders. MS
 ROMANIA'S RADICALS MAKE HEADLINESThe Greater Romania Party (PRM) refuses to submit the lists of its candidates for verification by the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, Mediafax reported on 13 October. PRM chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who is himself suspected of having been a Securitate agent, said the council was "in itself a political police" and that the PRM "will not recognize its authority." On 16 October, the Marshal Antonescu League, of which Tudor is a prominent member, unveiled a plaque on the building in Bucharest where Romania's wartime leader was detained after his arrest on 23 August 1944, Romanian radio reported. Finally, Pavel Corut, a former high-ranking Securitate officer and now the leader of Romanian Life Party and prolific spy-thriller author, announced on 14 October that he has withdrawn from the presidential race and will concentrate instead on the race for the Senate. MS
 ROMANIA ALLOWS KOZLODUY NUCLEAR TRANSPORT TO SAIL ONA Russian vessel transporting fuel to the Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Kozloduy has received permission to continue on its journey, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. The ship had been detained on 3 October in the Danube port of Sulina by Romanian authorities, who said it lacked the proper papers and had failed to notify Romanian authorities on time about its cargo. ITAR-TASS, citing Romanian authorities, said the ship will be allowed to continue its journey this week. MS
 NATO LEADER TELLS SOFIA CONFERENCE EXPANSION CANNOT BE 'POLITICAL AWARD'NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson on 13 October lauded the contribution of countries in the Balkans "to bring an end to the destabilizing effects of the [Slobodan] Milosevic regime" in Yugoslavia. Addressing a conference of states seeking membership in the organization, Robertson warned, however, that accession to the alliance cannot be regarded as "a political award," AP reported. He said NATO remains open to new members but expansion will take place when both NATO and the candidates are ready for it. "NATO wants [those] countries not only to consume, but also generate security," he said. The forum was attended by the defense ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. MS
 MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT DETERMINED TO ENFORCE PRIVATIZATIONThe cabinet headed by Dumitru Braghis on 13 October decided to privatize Moldova's tobacco and wine industries by governmental order, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The decision follows a debate in the parliament earlier that day that postponed the decision on the privatization of those industries due to the opposition of the Party of Moldovan Communists, which has 40 seats in the 101-seat legislature. Under an amendment of the constitution passed in July, the government order becomes law unless a vote of no-confidence in the cabinet is passed within three days after the order has been issued. The IMF and the World Bank are conditioning resumption of the financial aid to Chisinau suspended last year--as well as the rescheduling of Moldova's foreign debt--on the passage of those laws. An IMF delegation is due to arrive in Moldova on 18 October. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL AMENDMENTSThe parliament on 13 October rejected amendments proposed by President Petru Lucinschi to the law on the election of the country's president by the legislature, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi had failed to promulgate the law passed by the parliament on 22 September but the legislature re-sent the bill to the president unchanged, and Lucinschi is now obliged to promulgate it under existing constitutional provisions. The president requested that any parliamentary group represented in the parliament be granted the right to propose presidential candidates, that this right be also granted to groups backed by 20,000 eligible voters, and that deputies be able to back more than a single candidate. Under the provisions of the 22 September law, candidacies must be backed by at least 15 deputies and a deputy cannot back more than one candidate. MS
[C] END NOTE
 BELARUS'S EXERCISE IN SIMULATED DEMOCRACYBy Jan Maksymiuk
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is an avid ice hockey player. Occasionally, Belarusian Television shows him chasing after a puck with his "vertical men" (another name in Belarus for executive officials). The latter go to great pains to assist the president in scoring a goal if they are on his side or take huge precautions not to be too rough toward him if they are playing against him. Lukashenka regularly wins because he always plays on his own ground, according to his own rules, and against opponents handicapped by the blinding fear of his unpredictable rule.
Lukashenka, it appears, modeled the 15 October elections to the Chamber of Representatives on his hockey distractions. While his final victory may not be quite so clear-cut as on the ice rink, the election game has been certainly played according to his own rules.
At the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, Lukashenka committed himself to enter a "meaningful dialogue" with the opposition to overcome the "constitutional controversy" in Belarus. That controversy dates back to the November 1996 constitutional referendum in Belarus, which is widely believed to have been rigged. The referendum provided Lukashenka with virtually dictatorial powers and abolished Belarus's democratically elected legislature--the Supreme Soviet. None of the European countries recognized the 1996 constitutional changes in Belarus. The OSCE, for its part, specified four requirements for the Lukashenka regime to regain international legitimacy: democratizing the country's electoral code, giving the opposition access to the state-controlled media, expanding the powers of the current legislature, and improving the political climate in the country by stopping political persecution.
Instead of entering talks with the democratic opposition, Lukashenka orchestrated a "sociopolitical dialogue" with more than 100 public organizations, including associations of philatelists and anglers. The "sociopolitical" forum discussed everything in general and nothing in particular and succeeded in proposing only cosmetic amendments to the electoral code. The democratic opposition declined to take part in that "dialogue."
Shortly after the OSCE Istanbul summit, the opposition struck a deal with a representative of the Lukashenka administration on access to state media. Later, however, Lukashenka changed his mind, fired the official responsible for the conclusion of that deal, and ordered anti-opposition propaganda to be increased in the media.
Lukashenka argued that since the 1996 constitution cannot be revoked, he would not discuss any changes in the powers of the current legislature. In what was intended as a big sacrifice on his part but sounded like an unintentional mockery, Lukashenka declared that he might consider giving the Chamber of Representatives a say in the appointment of ambassadors.
The democratic opposition refused to participate in the 15 October ballot and called for an election boycott. It did so for two fundamental reasons. First, the regime has not provided even the minimal conditions for democratic and fair elections. Second, the Chamber of Representatives has no effective control over the government and is unable to ensure the implementation of the laws it passes. In practice, Lukashenka rules the country by decree.
Some 60 democratic candidates sought to run in the 15 October elections on an independent ticket, but two-thirds of them were denied registration on technicalities. Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna jeered at those candidates on television, suggesting that they were not sufficiently literate to fill out the registration documents correctly (almost all of the would-be candidates from the opposition have university diplomas). Simultaneously, local electoral commissions eliminated potentially strong challengers to those whom Lukashenka wanted to be elected. More than 200 people were denied registration.
When it became clear that the authorities had minimized the risk of an undesirable candidate's victory, Lukashenka announced that Belarus would conduct "fully democratic elections" without engaging in fraud. He may well keep that promise since there is no need to rig anything--except the final turnout figure, if it proves to be below 50 percent. Regardless of who is elected, the president's adherents will form a commanding majority in the future legislature.
Only the U.S. unequivocally condemned Belarus's phony election campaign, noting that international monitoring would have "lent legitimacy to a fundamentally flawed election process." Europe's election watchdog--the OSCE--succeeded in baffling both the Lukashenka regime and the Belarusian opposition by sending a technical assessment mission and a handful of other representatives whose status was unclear.
Were the OSCE to recognize Belarus's sham vote, the Belarusian democratic opposition would almost certainly be stripped of any political significance. At the same time, non-recognition of the ballot will hardly improve the oppositionists' standing. The opposition still faces the enormously difficult task of persuading its compatriots that their regime can be dismantled once they overcome their fear. "Inwardly we support the election boycott, but they may simply expel us from the university if we fail to vote," a student told an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk after casting her ballot.
It is primarily the sum of such fears, rather than the people's respect, that makes Lukashenka look invincible. But Lukashenka is afraid, too. That's why he won't risk testing his popularity in democratic elections.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty