Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 92

The alternative presidential balloting, set by the Belarusan opposition for May 6-May 16, seems to proceed apace. Almost 14,000 volunteers in 2,500 localities across Belarus, operating mostly at night, are involved in the door-to-door vote-collecting campaign. Having compiled electoral registers in advance, the local groups are now carrying mobile ballot boxes in satchels directly to voters, giving them an opportunity to cast their ballots. The procedure is inherently open to challenge on technical grounds, but such challenges would hardly detract from the symbolic value of the exercise.

According to the opposition’s Central Electoral Commission, almost 1.2 million voters–nearly 16 percent of the total number of registered voters in the country–had cast ballots as of May 10. They have an opportunity to choose between former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir and Popular Front leader Zyanon Paznyak–the former a political detainee since March of this year, the latter a political emigre since 1996. The Chyhir campaign chief, former Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Zakharenka, disappeared on May 7. The opposition, suspecting that he has been detained by the authorities, yesterday created a public committee to seek his release. Zakharenka, a former major-general of the police, recently led an effort to create a Union of Officers aligned with the political opposition to Lukashenka.

The Paznyak campaign, or a part of it, is using smear tactics against Chyhir and has threatened to withdraw from the balloting unless the exercise is restricted to a single day, May 16. A small voter turnout would redound to Paznyak’s advantage but would diminish the political value of the united opposition’s effort. A majority of the Popular Front’s leadership body–the Soym [Council]–has disavowed Paznyak’s demands and enabled the ballot collection to continue without internal hindrances.

That effort owes much to meticulous advance preparations by the opposition’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) under its chairman Viktar Hanchar and secretary Barys Hyunter. Hanchar had been the chairman of the official CEC until 1996, at which point he opposed the constitutional pseudo-referendum organized by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and was unlawfully dismissed from that post by the president. The leadership of the forcibly dissolved parliament–which continues to enjoy international recognition–has re-appointed Hanchar to chair the alternative CEC, which can therefore claim a measure of legal continuity and legitimacy (Belapan, May 9-10; and see the Monitor, March 30-31, May 10-11).