Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 152

The December 10 runoffs to the parliamentary by-elections in Belarus returned 59 deputies to the parliament from single- mandate constituencies, dispelling concerns that a low voter turnout could have caused the legislature to fall short of a quorum. The total number of elected deputies now safely exceeds the two thirds necessary for a valid parliamentary quorum. The electoral law required a minimum 50 percent voter turnout for constituency elections to be valid. The overall turnout for the runoffs was at least 52 percent, despite President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s efforts to foster apathy among voters in the hope of dispensing with parliament altogether. Lukashenko had repeatedly portrayed candidates and the parliament in highly negative terms, virtually barred candidates from state TV, and ordered the TV to broadcast prime entertainment programs throughout election day in order to keep voters from the polls. His threats to institute direct presidential rule now lose their immediacy.

Parliament chairman Mechislau Hryb, who had campaigned for a high turnout, thanked the voters for giving parliamentarism a lease on life in Belarus; and he appeared to reconsider his earlier decision to give up the legislature’s chairmanship. Denied TV and radio airtime before the election for an appeal to voters to come to the polls, Hryb aired his appeal on Russian TV and on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

In its final composition, the legislature has 198 of its 260 seats filled (the quorum is 174) and is comprised of 96 non-party deputies, 42 Communists, 33 Agrarians, and 27 deputies from small parties and groups, according to the Central Electoral Commission. While some independents and Agrarians belong to various shades of red, it is significant that such prominent exponents of Belarus sovereignty and of political and economic reforms, such as former parliament chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, former foreign minister Pyotr Krauchanka, and former central bank president Stanislau Bahdankevich won parliamentary seats December 10.

The European Parliament has announced its intention to work with the new Belarus parliament in strengthening the reformers’ hand. With Hryb, this group will also undoubtedly resist a reabsorption of Belarus by Russia. On the eve of the runoffs, Hryb and Shushkevich publicly defended the December 1991 dissolution of the USSR, implicitly challenging the conventional wisdom that this stance is unpopular in Belarus. (12)

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