Leading article: A regime with a knack for losing friends

Share
Related Topics

The only people with high hopes of Sunday's presidential election in Belarus were probably the incumbent President, Alexander Lukashenko, and his closest comrades. Anyone else will have harboured few illusions about the quality of Belarus's democracy – and that includes the nine candidates who took the risk of standing against him. Mr Lukashenko was duly re-elected with 80 per cent of the vote, easily exceeding the margin needed to avoid a second round.

The ferocity of the protests that followed, however, and the ruthless way in which they were suppressed, suggests that, after 16 years in power, the regime is vulnerable, and knows it. Several opposition candidates were beaten up, to the point of needing hospital treatment, and hundreds of protesters were arrested.

That the election fell far short of being free and fair was acknowledged almost at once by observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. And while there were reports of stuffed ballot-boxes, the levers of power held by the President would have been enough to keep him in power; election-rigging takes many forms. Even so, the scale of Mr Lukashenko's victory and the brutal official response to the protests came as a disappointment.

The campaign itself had not been quite as bland a walkover as many had feared. It was freer and more fiercely contested than any fought by Mr Lukashenko – which, admittedly, is not saying much. Now, though, what appeared to be modest progress looks more like window-dressing designed to divert foreign critics. Opponents still risk their freedom and their lives.

But, as he embarks on a fourth term, Mr Lukashenko faces a dilemma. The economy, once his saving grace, is languishing. Yet outside help is unlikely to be forthcoming. After overtures from the EU earlier this year – which matched a cooling of relations with Russia – Belarus is isolated as never before. Meanwhile, as the latest protests showed, domestic dissent is becoming bolder. Mr Lukashenko is promising "political changes in general, but no change of power". The question is whether the one is possible without the other.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen  

Scottish referendum: The pain that was inflicted on family and friends by David Cameron’s narrow politics

Andrea Calderwood
 

Scottish referendum: The people of my country have brought a catastrophe upon themselves by voting No

Simon Brooke
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week