- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

In Belarus last weekend, the opposition leaders did not light their parliament on fire as their Yugoslavian counterparts had the week before. They did not crush the walls of the state media outlet with bulldozers or leave key sites in their capital in shambles. No, the people living under the last dictator of Europe met this weekend's parliamentary elections with silence. Opposition parties rallied the people to boycott, and what they didn't say at the polls, the international community said for them.

The U.S. State Department declared the results "not free, fair, or transparent" and replete with "gross abuses" by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European parliament and the European Union said the same. The dictator's allies got most of the 43 seats in districts where the winner received a majority of the vote. Where no candidate received a majority of the vote, run-offs will occur Oct. 26, another opportunity for the dictator to demonstrate his unique election methods. However, a record-low turnout in many towns, claimed as a victory by the opposition, will force new elections in three months.

What will it take for the people to push Mr. Lukashenko to follow Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic into political oblivion in next year's presidential election? Nothing short of war, if one asks the international coordinator for Charter '97, Andrei Sannikov. "I don't know how the country survives. [Approximately] 48.5 percent live below the poverty level," Mr. Sannikov told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. "That increases to 60 percent in rural areas. It would provoke an extreme reaction anywhere else. Here, they won't act as long as there is no war."

But the people of Belarus are getting restless. Out of the 50 percent of the people who don't know who they support, 90 percent are not satisfied with Mr. Lukashenko and with their lives in Belarus, Mr. Sannikov said. The dictator's behavior before last weekend's elections didn't help any. In his statement three days before the elections, Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the OSCE, listed just a few reasons why the people should take to the streets: "Since August 30, the Lukashenko regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds, detained, fined or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections, burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party, and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper."

Mr. Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, was himself a victim last year when he was beaten unconscious, and three ribs and his nose were broken, in what he said was a government-planned attack. He and the rest of the opposition don't want to be victims in next year's elections. If the opposition can rally behind one formidable leader, war won't have to precede change nor will Mr. Lukashenko once again make democracy a fatality.

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