Despite a far higher than expected voter turnout of 63 percent overall, the net result of the November 29 elections brings Belarus only a small degree closer to having a viable parliament. With an average of six candidates standing in each of 141 districts where the reruns took place, only 20 new deputies were elected in this first round of the reruns. At least 35 more deputies must be elected in the run-off on December 10 to reach the two-thirds quorum of 174 members that will enable a new parliament to begin work. There is scant hope that the assembly will achieve its capacity of 260 legislators. At this point, therefore, what lies between minimum success and another disaster, as in the failed May election, are 35 unfilled seats. Those seats may in turn decide whether President Aleksandr Lukashenko carries out his threat to impose direct presidential rule. It is an open question whether the turnout on December 10 will reach this week’s relatively high level, given the fact the runoffs fall on a Sunday when voter participation is generally lower than on working days.
Five of the 20 deputies elected this week were Communists and three represented their allied Agrarian Party. Most of the remainder were independents. Communist candidates also greatly outnumber Popular Front and centrist democrat candidates, such as former national leader Stanislau Shushkevich, going into the run-off. Popular Front chairman Zyanon Paznyak, who led the movement for Belarusian independence since the era of perestroika, narrowly missed reelection to parliament in the November 29 election. Paznyak received 47 percent of the vote as against 40 percent for his opponent, but because it was a two-person race he cannot present his candidacy for a second round. Twenty-three other Popular Front members will advance to the run-offs on December 10 but expect to gain only a few seats.
Observers from the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly said yesterday in Minskthat the balloting followed "free and fair" procedures with no apparent irregularities. At the same time, they criticized tight media restrictions and expressed "shock" at Lukashenko’s threat to dispense with parliament and establish a one-man rule. The elections will have an important bearing on Belarus’s application for membership in the Council of Europe. (14)
The new parliament, should it come into being, might end up being more red than the outgoing one, and in that case, hamper even the very modest progress toward reform that Belarus has made in recent years. But Lukashenko is not on the best of personal terms with the old regime communists sitting in parliament, and he would clearly prefer to rule alone.
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