Political commentators continue to discuss the outcomes of Belarus’s September 11 parliamentary elections (see EDM, September 12). According to the official results, the lowest voter turnout was in the city of Minsk, 61 percent; and the highest in Mogilev Oblast, 81 percent (Belarus Segodnya, September 12). Out of 110 elected members of parliament (MP), only 28 were lawmakers in the previous convocation of the House of Representatives (lower chamber of the Belarusian legislature). Thirty-eight MPs are women, and 16 are members of political parties. For comparison, only five party members were elected in 2012 (Belarus.by, September 12). Eight of the 16 elected party members represent the Communist Party. Two members of the opposition were elected for the first time since 2004.
The day after the vote, the talk show Matter of Principle, which airs on the first channel of Belarusian TV, presented Belarusian society’s attitudes toward the elections. Two points of view connected to the authorities were expressed by Lidia Ermoshina, the chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission, and by Vadim Borovik, a political commentator. Ermoshina conceded the possibility of mistakes by the local electoral commissions and suggested that those who lost the elections are particularly critical of the entire process. Ermoshina suggested it would make sense to change a majority voting system in Belarus to a combination of a majority and proportional representation system. Thereby, MPs would be elected not only as individuals by a local constituency (as is the case today) but also as part of a list presented by every political party, thus assigning parliamentary seats proportionally to the number of votes the parties receive. For that to happen, however, “we should nurture a class of professional politicians,” remarked Ermoshina. Borovik, meanwhile, accused the opposition of being “political prostitutes” accountable to external donors, and he disparaged them for attributing their abysmally low electoral ratings to vote rigging. In their turn, the invited members of the opposition vented their indignation over the alleged absence of transparency in the ballot-counting process at individual precincts. Particularly vociferous in their criticism were Sergei Kaliakin, head of the leftist party, A Just World (a splinter Communist group); Irina Veshtard, head of the Social Democrats; and the head of the Green Party, Anastasiya Dorofeyeva. The Green Party leader even called the talk show she was currently on “an imitation of a discussion of the imitation elections.” The deputy chairman of the United Civic Party, Leonid Margolin, mentioned that on social networks one of the hotly debated issues is whether Anna Kanopatskaya, a member of the same party, had indeed been “elected” or simply “appointed” an MP (Ont.by, September 12).
Margolin’s observation reflects the persistent refrain among the organized opposition and opposition-minded pundits regarding whether or not the authorities manufactured the results to allow two opposition candidates to enter the parliament. A series of recent articles by opposition writers certainly reflects such a mindset: for example, “Why Did Lukashenka Allow the Opposition in the Parliament?” (Carnegie.ru, September 14); “The Opposition Candidate has Been Appointed, not Elected” (Tut.by, September 14); and “How to Finish Korotkevich” (Belorusskii Partizan, September 9). The third piece was authored by Igor Drako and published two days before the elections. The article predicted the electoral outcome at Minsk Precinct 97, for which two opposition candidates ran against the director of the Minsk railway terminal, Alexander Drozhzha. One of the opposition candidates was Tatyana Korotkevich who campaigned for president of Belarus in October 2015. Representing the Speak the Truth civic campaign, Korotkevich then received 4.42 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election; but according to a post-election national survey by the now defunct polling firm IISEPS (see EDM, September 7), her electoral support was actually as high as 15 percent. Out of a total of four candidates running in Minsk Precinct 97 two weeks ago, Korotkevich enjoyed the highest name recognition. According to Drako, however, Korotkevich, who was long accused by the other members of the opposition of collusion with the “regime,” committed the crime of not congratulating Alyaksandr Lukashenka on his 2015 electoral victory, and so she was doomed. However, losing the election to an unknown bureaucrat (Drozhzha), according to Drako, would not be an elegant result to present to the outside world. Thus, Drako predicted that the victory would be accorded to the other opposition candidate—which would be a) to the liking of the West, and b) snub Korotkevich (Belorusskii Partizan, September 9).
In fact, Korotkevich did end up losing to the other opposition candidate running in her electoral district: entrepreneur and lawyer from the United Civic Party (UCP) Anna Kanopatskaya. Korotkevich’s Speak the Truth campaign alleges that 12,000 ballots were fraudulently inserted into ballot boxes at Precinct 97, which lifted the voter turnout from the actual 40 percent to almost 60 percent and ensured the victory of Kanopatskaya. Meanwhile, UCP itself also labeled the elections unfair but nevertheless decided to take advantage of its member acquiring a seat in the House of Representatives (Tut.by, September 14). Writing for Carnegie Moscow Center, Artyom Shraibman alleges that Kanopatskaya’s electoral result and that of the other winning opposition candidate, Elena Anisim, were “handmade” by the government. Specifically, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been lobbying for a rapprochement with the West, which necessitated those results, he argues (Carnegie.ru, September 14).
Whether or not such interpretations are accurate, two facts are certain. First, since 2004, there had been no opposition in the Belarusian parliament; there is now. Second, the general public has so far not expressed any visible signs of discontent over the results of the elections. The latter point is especially important. As the above-cited commentator Shraibman once asked rhetorically: what can the opposition do in the absence of public demand for change? (Naviny.by, May 14, 2013). Rhetorical exclamations, however, may reflect an inability to explain reality. No single blueprint for socio-political development exists. Minsk is a well-functioning metropolis, and Belarus has more than its “fair share” of success stories—especially from the vantage point of its neighbors. Somehow these successes were accomplished, and worn clichés only obstruct the search for useful explanations.