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ELECTIONS IN BELARUS: Western Commentary from Independent Observers

Май 29, 2017
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In 2015, independent observers from various countries, primarily Western nations, attended the balloting, during which President Lukashenko was still chosen to maintain his position as leader of Belarus. The foreign witnesses made various comments about the selection process and about how the polling appeared.

The Presidential election in Belarus took place this year without incident. According to observers, the selection took place both calmly and transparently. Nearly one thousand witnesses from different countries attended the October 11, 2015 election. The 2015 results calculated that President Lukashenko carried the popular vote with 83.47% selection.

While reviewing material about the 2015 election in Belarus, the most notable and repeated sentiment that was pointed out was that 2015 polling was in no way like 2010 polling. In the 2010 election, President Alexander Lukashenko retained office, receiving 79.67% of the casted votes. However, protests erupted after the election and many activists were arrested, including the runner-up candidate, Andrei Sannikov. Many Western nations felt that these elections exposed the bad practices of the Belarusian government.

In 2015, independent observers from various countries, primarily Western nations, attended the balloting, during which President Lukashenko was still chosen to maintain his position as leader of Belarus. The foreign witnesses made various comments about the selection process and about how the polling appeared.

Christian Haerpfer, Austrian sociologist and Associate Professor of Political Science, remarked, “This is my second election in Belarus. The atmosphere between 2010 and 2015 elections is incomparable. We were asking people about whether there were any technical mistakes during voting and whether there was any pressure on them during voting. We did not hear any complaints. We saw no concerned faces. We saw happy people, many with kids, smiling, and taking photos.”

Professor Hans-Peter Meier-Dallach, a Swiss expert in comparative research with Culture Prospective SWISS noted, “I have been an observer of several elections, including ones in Ukraine in 2005, in the capacity of observing exit polls. This election was formally the most professional realization of the exit polling process. We visited numerous polling stations, and the professionalism of the election and exit poll conduction were the best in my experience. I have to say that the atmosphere of the election was absolutely great, not only at the polling stations, but also at the exit and in the discussions.”

Kent Harstedt, head of the team of shortterm observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission expressed extra interest in the polling: “We are here, of course, because of the elections. But do not forget, we welcome the role played by [the capital] Minsk as a site for peace talks. The role of Belarus in this act of peace is big. And I think people in Europe want to see how people live in Belarus, that they have good and happy lives.”

General conversation with citizens showed that most were content with Lukashenko’s election, as they felt he guards the country from corruption and crime and that his government focuses on maintaining social programs that help children and the elderly. A few did remark that since Lukashenko occupied the office for many years, a new president might be a good change. Overall, people worried less about the long term of the presidency and focused more on the fact that the current government meets the needs of the population.

Another outside observer, Professor Peter Bachmaier, Chairman of the Austrian- Belarusian Society asserted, “The attitude of Austrians to your country has always been good. Your country has maintained positive achievements in education, industry and social benefits.”

Attendees showed surprise at the lack of promotion for candidates in the country. Professor Juan Diez Nicolas of Spain mentioned, “I was surprised that I almost did not see any election advertisement or very little. It looked like there is no election at all. Not so in Spain, where the campaign advertisement is very strong and you see it everywhere. I saw only faces of four candidates on the polling stations and they were very friendly.” Overall, voting succeeded throughout the nation, and people cast ballots without pressure and influence. After the elections, no demonstrations ensued. However, Professor Meier-Dallach added one note, “[While] the formal conditions of elections… are compliant with Western standards …counting the votes is a different matter.”

In writing this article, our hopes were to present neutral opinions based on factual observations of the 2015 Belarusian Presidential election. The unbiased comments are from Western officials who attended the balloting, and these comments allow readers to personally judge the veracity of the participants in the election.

 You can reach Mark Bazalev at

SDiplomacy@gmail.com

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