Belarus Elections: Invisible, But Not Trivial
Photo by Serge Serebro
In what may well qualify as their country’s most invisible election ever, Belarusians went to vote for a new parliament last Sunday (11 September).
Only once the polls closed did the ballot draw broader attention: for the first time in over a decade a pair of opposition-minded candidates made it into the House of Representatives.
In the tightly knit autocracy of Aleksander Lukashenko, such a surprise result hardly reflects a free and fair vote, a verdict OSCE monitors denied to this latest election as to all others since 1994.
Instead, the appointment of two independents to the submissive assembly follows a hard political calculus on the part of the Belarusian strongman, who counts on gains both at home and, even more so, internationally.
Such boosts are badly needed, shaky as Lukashenko’s reign has increasingly become. His country is living through its deepest recession since independence and faces debt repayments that effectively exhaust its meagre reserves.
The independence of his small nation - and with it, his very rule - are ever-more aggressively questioned by the Kremlin, and with the Russian war against Ukraine, Belarusians fear that they, too, might eventually draw the wrath of their eastern neighbour.
Faced with economic collapse and Russian chauvinism, Lukashenko has once again turned to the West. He unleashed a charm offensive, avoided taking sides in the Ukraine crisis, and offered himself as a peace broker, released political prisoners and relaxed the worst - but by no means all - repression of critics and civil society.
Yet with Western relief too slow and too little to stem the tide, it was only a matter of time until the ruler in Minsk would pull his next trick.