Lukashenka Moves to Rig Elections
Freedom House today criticized President Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus over recent statements by him suggesting officials violate democratic standards in the legislative election and presidential referendum scheduled for October 17. The referendum seeks to remove constitutional term limits for Lukashenka, paving the way for indefinite rule.
Lukashenka told Belarusian authorities on October 6: "We should show who is the master of the house...We have enough power and techniques to win these elections and referendum overwhelmingly."
Lukashenka's statements reflect a decade-long pattern of undemocratic governance featuring non-transparent elections, attacks on civil society organizations, subordination of the judiciary to the executive, and government anti-corruption efforts that target political opponents rather than make a meaningful impact on growing problems with bribery and other corrupt activities.
Freedom House's annual Nations in Transit study, which examines democratic development in the 27 post-Communist states, provides a detailed accounting of President Lukashenka's consolidation of autocracy.
"Since 1994, President Lukashenka has consolidated authoritarian power and presided over the systematic violation of basic political rights and civil liberties in Belarus," said Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor. "Today, the prospect for free and fair elections is dim, and the likelihood that Lukashenka will manipulate a Constitutional change allowing him another presidential term is strong."
Freedom House also welcomed the recent passage of the Belarus Democracy Act by the United States Congress and encouraged President Bush to sign it into law as soon as possible.
First proposed in 2001, the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 authorizes the United States to fund assistance that promotes democracy, human rights, and rule of law in Belarus.
"The long-awaited Belarus Democracy Act delivers vital assistance to Belarus' beleaguered advocates of democracy and freedom," said Ms. Windsor. "President Bush should seize this opportunity to work closely with our European Union allies and Russia to press harder for democratic change. As Lukashenka's recent maneuverings make clear, there is no time to waste.
Belarusian researcher and political analyst Vitali Silitski wrote the Belarus chapter for Freedom House's annual survey Nations In Transit. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. and is available for comment and interviews before and following the Sunday elections in Belarus. He may be reached between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM (ET) at (202) 293-0300, extension 625, or by email at: email@example.com.
Freedom House's latest Nations in Transit report on Belarus can be found online.
Freedom House is America's oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and defending democracy and freedom worldwide.