From the Top
THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WILL BE HELD MARCH 19, 2006. THE DATE HAS BEEN SET IN THE RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE CHAMBER OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF BELARUS DECEMBER 16
SEVERAL STORIES ABOUT THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
“ON SETTING THE DATE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS”.
|President Lukashenka in conference|
Ivan Semenenia stated that the voters would be on leave at that time and “it would be difficult to ensure high turnout and provide the people with an opportunity to implement their constitutional right to participate in the elections”.
Ivan Semenenia underlined that in autumn 2006 Belarus will launch the electoral campaign to local council of deputies, whose term of tenure expires at the beginning of March 2007. “Holding two simultaneous electoral campaigns is extremely undesirable”, Ivan Semenenia considers.
VLADIMIR KONOPLEV: THERE ARE NO PREREQUISITES FOR SOCIAL UPHEAVALS DURING ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN
|No Protesting will be expected or allowed|
The speaker stressed that in this case the parliamentarians took into consideration the opinion of most of their electorate.
Vladimir Konoplev doubts that the opposition will nominate a single candidate. “Of course, some political parties will support the person they have already voted for as this is not their point of view but the command from the overseas “master”, the politician said.
Speaking about the emerging electoral technologies Vladimir Konoplev stressed that “the best technology is good wages, timely pensions and scholarships”. The speaker noted that among the CIS countries Belarus is a leader in all these issues. “I do not think that any upheavals and social revolutions like the events in the neighboring countries will take place in Belarus”, Vladimir Konoplev is convinced.
NATALIA PETKEVICH: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS SHOULD NOT UNDERMINE STABILITY IN SOCIETY
“All organizations involved in the election campaign should exert every effort to hold the elections in a calm manner, not undermining stability in the society”, deputy head of the administration of the president of Belarus Natalia Petkevich stated December 16.
We remind that the parliament set the date for the presidential elections - March 19, 2006.
“All candidates can compete during the elections but they should share the opinion that the republic should remain stable”, Natalia Petkevich underlined.
According to her, July could be better month for the elections than March. “For instance, July 3 is the Independence Day, a large-scale holiday. On that day people in a good mood would go to give their votes”, deputy head of the administration noted. However, the date offered by the parliamentarians “is more optimal”.
Natalia Petkevich considers that the forthcoming presidential elections will strengthen the political activity. “The political powers should use their wisdom and love to people in order not to shake the stability of the country. The leadership should maintain the public order. The presidential campaign begins, however, the country should function in the normal regime”, the deputy head of the administration said.
According to her, still it is difficult to say how many people will nominate their candidatures to the post of the president, “now there are some 5-6 people”.
VICE-SPEAKER FOR STATE DUMA: FORTHCOMING ELECTIONS TO CONFIRM BELARUS’ RIGHT CHOSEN POLICY
The forthcoming presidential elections in Belarus will confirm the right chosen policy pursued by the country’s leadership, vice-speaker for the State Duma of Russia, leader of the party Narodnaya Volia Sergei Baburin told BelTA.
The vice-speaker noted that at the nation-wide referendum the Belarusian people gave the president a right to participate in new elections. According to him, Alexander Lukashenko should exercise this right. “As for today Alexander Lukashenko has no equals in the political elite of Belarus”, the vice-speaker of the State Duma noted.
RUSLAN AUSHEV CONNECTS STABILITY IN BELARUS WITH PERSONA ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO
Well-known Russian policy-maker, chairman of the committee for the affairs of the soldiers-internationalists under the CIS Council of Heads of Government Ruslan Aushev connects socio-economic stability in Belarus with persona Alexander Lukashenko. Mr.Aushev told this BelTA while commenting upon the decision to hold presidential election in Belarus on March 19.
Ruslan Aushev has no doubt that the present-day Belarusian leader will run for presidency in the forthcoming election. According to the Russian policy-maker, “if people in Belarus want stability than they will vote for Alexander Lukashenko, if they want upheavals, they will make another choice”. However, Rusaln Aushev virtually rejects the second variant since he believes that “the Belarusian people are good and wise people and they will not make thoughtless decisions”.
Ruslan Aushev added that stability on the territory of the former Soviet Union in large part hinged on the position of Russia. He thinks that Russia is also interested to see Belarus continue pursuing its present-day policy.
CEC: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS TO COST BR35 BILLION
December 16 the Central Election Commission /CEC/ of Belarus approved the estimate of expenditures of the 2006 presidential elections. The expenditures will total Br35,325,248 billion. ($16.28 million US)
Major expenditures will be allocated to pay wages to workers of territorial and precinct polling stations – Br29,121,9 billion. More than Br4 billion would be authorized on the logistic support.
Today the CEC approved several overriding documents necessary for the electoral campaign. In particular, the commission approved a corresponding timetable and resolutions on the order of submitting documents for registration of groups of supports of presidential contenders. According to Lydia Yermoshina, the deadline for submitting these documents is December 23.
The CEC also approved resolutions explaining the procedures of nominating candidates to territorial commissions and observers from political parties and public organizations. Observers have the right to attend sittings of territorial and district election commissions without preliminary notification.
The commission approved a document describing the rights of journalists. According to Lydia Yermoshina, “this resolution aims to ensure observation of the main principle of the election campaign – publicity”. In line with the document, representatives of mass media outlets can attend any sittings of elections commissions and polling stations. In addition to the local poling places, forty-two polling stations for the presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus will be organized abroad, including three – in the Russian Federation.
ALYAKSANDR MILINKEVICH: IT DOES NOT MATTER TO US WHEN TO WIN, IN MARCH OR IN JULY
|MILINKEVICH: The Great White (Russian) Hope|
BELARUS SETS DATE FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION THAT OPPOSITION CALLS ITS `LAST CHANCE`
By Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times/Charter ‘97
The Parliament in Belarus voted Friday to hold the country`s next presidential election in March, opening an accelerated campaign between its authoritarian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and a beleaguered opposition movement. The election will be a watershed for Belarus, which Mr. Lukashenko has led since 1994 with an increasingly repressive hand. He has revived symbols and policies of the country`s Soviet past, eroded personal and political freedoms and stifled all forms of dissent.
The democratic opposition - now unified behind a single candidate, Aleksandr Milinkevich - has called for a free election, but its leaders doubt that one will take place. They have increasingly focused their attention on mobilizing people for mass protests like those in Ukraine last year after that country’s fraudulent presidential election.
"If our campaign is effective, then we will get people out into the street," Mr. Milinkevich said in an interview this week while campaigning in the western Belarussian city of Brest. "This is the last chance for us, the last battle."
The election has raised the specter of a new and possibly violent confrontation over democracy following popular upheavals in two other post-Soviet nations, Georgia and Ukraine, and more suspect elections recently in two others, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
With 10 million people, Belarus borders new members of the European Union that have openly called for democratic change there, as has the United States. During a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in May, President Bush called for "free and fair elections" in Belarus. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Belarus "the last true dictatorship in central Europe."
"It is time for change to come," she said in April.
Mr. Lukashenko is eligible to run again only because of a constitutional amendment approved in a referendum in October 2004 that abolished presidential term limits, allowing him to seek office indefinitely. That referendum approval, officially supported by 77 percent of voters, was widely denounced as a fraud. An independent survey of voters leaving polling places indicated that only 48 percent had voted in favor of abolishing term limits.
Mr. Lukashenko has responded defiantly to international criticism. With the election approaching, his government has put independent newspapers under new pressure by revoking their ability to be sold through state-owned kiosks or delivered through the state postal system.
The two houses of Parliament also toughened criminal penalties for organizing protests, joining banned organizations or speaking against the national interest. The legislation, awaiting Mr. Lukashenko`s signature, would impose prison sentences of up to three years for anyone convicted of advocating the overthrow of the government and up to two years for "discrediting the country."
Parliament voted to set the election for March 19 in a hastily called session. Under the country`s Constitution, twice revised by Mr. Lukashenko, the next election could have been held as late as July. But with Mr. Milinkevich`s campaign showing signs of winning popular support, according to its own polls, many of his aides believed that Mr. Lukashenko would move to compress the election campaign.
Nikolai I. Lozovik, a spokesman for the Central Election Commission, said in a telephone interview that the date had been set because of more prosaic concerns: "July is the time of vacations." He added that March elections were "an old Soviet tradition."
The Parliament`s vote came a day after Mr. Lukashenko met with Mr. Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Mr. Lukashenko was quoted by news agencies as saying he would discuss the elections with the Russian leader. Although the two men have had chilly relations at times, Mr. Putin has been a reliable ally.
The Kremlin, dismayed by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that overturned an initial victory by a Russian-backed candidate, appears unlikely to break with Mr. Lukashenko to support an opposition candidate promising democratic, economic and political reforms.
In a telephone interview after the vote on Friday, Mr. Milinkevich said the earlier election date would curtail his time to travel and meet voters in person - something essential to his campaign because of a blackout on state television and radio.
An abbreviated campaign could also limit the influence of foreign assistance, including nearly $12 million pledged by the United States to support civic and political groups, though not Mr. Milinkevich directly.
At the same time, Mr. Milinkevich said the decision to hold elections in March underscored the government`s concern over signs that popular support for Mr. Lukashenko has waned after nearly 12 years in power.
"This decision is more evidence of their uncertainty," he said of Mr. Lukashenko and his circle. "They realize they cannot win in honest competition."
BELARUS LEADER TIGHTENS GRIP IN RUN-UP TO MARCH POLL
By Nick Paton Walsh, The Guardian
|Lukashenko and Putin|
The Belarusian parliament, broadly obedient to President Alexander Lukashenko, voted unanimously to set the date a full six months before he finishes his second term. The United States has branded Mr Lukashenko "Europe`s last dictator", while the European Union has considered sanctions to get him to loosen his tight grip on the country`s economy, politics and society.
The announcement came a day after he met his key ally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, at Sochi on the Black Sea. The meeting was closed to the press, but the Kremlin said "energy cooperation" was high on the agenda. Diplomats said the meeting may have been used to secure Russian economic and geopolitical support for Mr Lukashenko`s re-election. "It looks like Putin will support him," said a senior western diplomat, who had been expecting the poll to be held in July.
Since the recent protest-led revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Belarus has tightened its already strict censorship and Soviet-era controls. Parliament passed a law this month that punishes "distributing false information about Belarus" with up to to three years in jail. The opposition press has been partly shut down and some of its journalists have died in mysterious circumstances. The Polish media have reported that Mr Lukashenko has ordered internet-censoring equipment from China.
The early election is one of the most keenly awaited in the former Soviet Union. Neighbouring Poland and the Baltic states have joined the EU and begun exerting pressure on Mr Lukashenko. Warsaw briefly withdrew its ambassador for three months this year after ethnic Poles were allegedly harassed in Belarus.
Mr Putin has toyed with the idea of uniting Russia and Belarus and installing himself as president-in-chief, thereby extending his rule. But his apparent desire to step down in 2008 has frozen this plan.
Diplomats believe that Thursday`s meeting may have been used to secure cheap gas and oil for Belarus, preventing any economic upset in the near future. "Economic problems would be the spark for any unrest," said one western diplomat, adding that such a prospect looked unlikely now. About 80% of the economy is controlled by the state, and its relative prosperity remains a key factor in mollifying the electorate. The diplomat said the ongoing crackdown was "probably due to classic Soviet paranoia".
The opposition, often dismissed because of its internal squabbling, has united behind Alexander Milinkevich, 58, a professor. Barred from the state-controlled media, he is trying to drum up support by touring the country, promoting his image as a dissident.
He told the Guardian by telephone that "a large number of people in Belarus want change". He said: "We were ready [for an early vote]. The authorities are afraid of elections as my ratings are rising fast. The people in the country understand that the authorities are not sure of themselves and know they would lose the elections if they were held honestly."
President Alexander Lukashenko, 51, was elected in 1994. He is a former Soviet hardliner, and as an MP supported the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. Since his election, he has extended his first term by two years with a 1996 referendum, and last year used another plebiscite to remove the limit of two presidential terms. According to official results, he won at least 70% in all three votes, none of which was recognised as democratic. Tensions over his authoritarian style have risen as neighbouring Poland and the Baltic states have joined the EU, and Ukraine underwent protest-led regime change last year. Russia has sought to increase its influence by bolstering the economy with cheap fuel supplies.
BELARUS LUKASHENKO SIGNS NEW AMENDMENTS TO THE CRIMINAL CODE : MEMBERS OF INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS NGOS AT RISK
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern at the signature by President A. Lukashenko of amendments to the Belarusian Criminal Code, which strengthen penal responsibility concerning “acts against people and public security”.
These amendments were adopted very quickly following two readings before the Belarusian Parliament, respectively on November 23 and December 8, 2005 , and all deputies voted in favour of the text during the last hearing before the Upper Chamber. The amendments were signed by President A. Lukashenko on December 13, 2005 and should enter into force on December 20, 2005, after official publication.
The Observatory is alarmed at these amendments, which constitute blatant violations of international and regional standards in terms of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and represent a very serious risk for the existence of an independent civil society in Belarus.
The new amendments stipulate that anyone who organises activities in the framework of a suspended or liquidated association may face a fine and be arrested up to six months in prison. In serious cases (for which there is no definition), one can be subjected to a “restriction of freedom” sentence for a period up to two years . The Observatory fears that human rights defenders be particularly targeted by this new disposal, since most of independent human rights NGOs were liquidated during the past three years, and since reasons for liquidation were even broadened in the recent “Law on Public Association”, adopted in August 2005 . As a consequence, it will become extremely difficult for independent organisations to exist as such and conduct activities.
Moreover, any person who provides training or any other type of education aiming at participating in “mass activities”, or any person who funds such activities, may face a prison term up to six months, or be sentenced to a “restriction of freedom” sentence of three years (article 293). Also, any person who provides training or any other form of education, aiming at the participation in “group activities which seriously violate public order”, or any funding or other material assistance of such activity, may be sentenced to prison up to six months and to a “restriction of freedom” sentence up to two years (article 342). However, there is no precision on the definition neither of a “mass activity” nor of a “group activity”, and the Observatory fears that the vagueness of the terms may give the authorities a new opportunity to arbitrarily sanction members of independent organisations.
Furthermore, these amendments provide very serious infringements to freedom of information. Indeed, the new amendments stipulate that “providing false information to a foreign State or international organisations, concerning the political, economical, military or international situation of the Republic of Belarus, as well as on the judicial situation of Belarusian citizens or any power instance”, is punishable by either a six-month prison term or a two-year ”restriction of freedom” sentence. The amendments also state that any person who would communicate with foreign States or international organisations, “to the detriment of internal security, sovereignty or territorial integrity”, as well as disseminate material with such content, could be sentenced to prison from six months to three years. If such information was distributed through mass media, the “perpetrators” could be sentenced from two to five years in detention. These provisions are a flagrant violation of article 5.c) of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right to communicate with non-governmental or international organisations”.
Finally, the new provisions stipulate that “people suspected of terrorism or vandalism may be detained during ten days before being charged”.
The Observatory considers that these new amendments constitute an additional tool for the authorities to crackdown on the independent civil society, in particular in the context of the organisation of the next presidential election, which was advanced this week from July to March 2006.
In view of the blatant violations of international and regional human rights standards resulting from these provisions, the Observatory asks President Lukashenko to stop the publication process of these amendments, in order to prevent their entry into force.
More generally, the Observatory ask the highest Belarusian authorities to put an end to any kind of harassment against human rights organisations and their members; to put Belarusian legislation in conformity with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with article 5.a), which states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right to meet of assemble peacefully”, its article 6.b), which states that “everyone is free (…) to publish, impart or disseminate to other views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and the above-mentioned article 5.c); and to conform with international and regional standards relative to freedoms of association and expression, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
From Tobias Ljungvall’s Tobias on Belarus Blog
THREE MONTHS LEFT TO CARRY MILINKEVICH INTO GOAL
This Friday something rather unexpected happened in Belarus. The date for next years presidential elections was set to 19 March, instead of 16 July as had been expected. Sure, there had been rumours for at least a year that the elections may be carried out early, and lately these rumours have intensified. But personally, I was inclined to write them off as speculation or deliberately planted disinformation to confuse the opposition in its strategy. Early elections would show that the regime was not confident about its control of the political situation, and Lukashenko prefers not to appear weak. Still, they have now definitely been set for 19 March, only three months away.
Many people connect this step to Lukashenko's meeting with Russia's president Vladimir Putin the previous day in Sochi. Some say that Moscow needs to get the Belarusian elections over with, so that they can host this summer's G8 summit without too much fuzz about post-Soviet democracy issues. Others suspect that there may be some covert deal involved, like selling the gas transit company Beltransgaz to Moscow or finally going through with establishing the so called union state that the two countries agreed upon six years ago. I am not sure about any of this, but I am fairly certain that Lukashenko would have got Moscow's blessing for staying in power regardless of when he had decided to carry out the elections.
The Belarusian opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich is now trying ot maintain a brave face, saying it wont matter when he will defeat Lukashenko. In fact, the date does matter. During the first two months after the united opposition appointed Milinkevich its candidate on 2 October, not much happened on the ground to promote him. It is only in the last couple of weeks that he has seriously started travelling and meeting with people around the country. And I am not aware that much else is going on in terms of promotion. The time left for the opposition to deliver on its promise to knock on two and a half million doors now looks scarce.
There is, however, a more acute deadline. Any candidate now has this coming week to hand in registration documents for initiative groups that will then have the right to collect signatures for him. Considering that at least 100 000 signatures are formally needed, and that the opposition has been talking about collecting a whole million of them in order to make denial of Milinkevich's candidature impossible, one can only hope that teams around the country are standing by to be registered. The head of Milinkevich's staff, Sergey Kalyakin, has said that this is so but it still remains to be seen.
Asked by Radio Liberty's Belarusian service to comment the announcement of early elections, I said that if Lukashenko is nervous about something it is probably popular sentiment rather than the organisational strength of the opposition. Both are however difficult to judge at this moment, as I am not aware of any comprehensive independent opinion polls conducted since September. The candle-lighting on the opposition's monthly day of solidarity, which also occurred on this Friday, does still not seem to have reached a mass which would encourage people to take a stand for change.
MOTOVELO COMPANY MUST AND WILL WORK!
From the official site of the president of Belarus and Belta
|Lukashenka: Let’s get back into the bike business!|
In the past, the enterprise was privatized and transferred to communal ownership. Four deputy general directors for marketing were replaced at the Motovelo OJSC over the past four years, but the situation grew increasingly aggravated. Production fell and exports declined. Specifically, the exports of the enterprise to foreign countries fell almost 3-fold. At present, 20 thousand bicycles lie stockpiled in its storehouses.
“This enterprise must work and it will work,” emphasized the Head of State. By the end of March, an appropriate regulatory enactment should be prepared which will provide the necessary legal framework for normalizing the situation at the enterprise. Manufacturing of new products, greatly needed in the country - potato planters and potato harvesters - has been suggested as one of the ways to manage the crisis.
first deputy vice-premier Vladimir Semashko informed the president that JSC “Motovelo” is ready to manufacture new experimental products by the 2006 sowing campaign – about 20 potato-planters.
Semashko stressed that the main troubles at the enterprise are caused by significant reduction in the production quality, lack of new ideas about diversification of the “Motovelo” assortment range, no trimming of production costs and introduction of new technologies.
As a result, today the enterprise has no floating assets and the financial performance has gravely deteriorated. The company’s losses in 2005 account for about Br9 billion, Vladimir Semashko said. “The administration of “Motovelo” have not addressed the issues of technological re-equipment of the enterprise since the moment the company was privatized. Thus, the fixed assets are presently 95 per cent worn out. In accordance with the international practice, if fixed assets are worn out by 60 per cent, the situation is critical”, he added.
At the same time Semashko stated that the new administration of “Motovelo” has managed to significantly cut on the ready-made stock, reduce bank indebtedness and curb the growth of bills payable. The company enriched its assortment of goods coming up with new models of mopeds, scooters, exercise bicycles and prams. However, the first vice-premier believes, it is impossible to overcome the crisis without support from the state.
In order to turn the company around specialists drew up a business-plan of financial recovery of “Motovelo” for 2006-2012. According to Semashko, the facility needs being restructured and technically re-equipped to successfully fulfill the program.
A draft decree on reinvigoration of the JSC “Motovelo” has been submitted to the Belarusian president. Alexander Lukashenko gave the corresponding instruction after today’s discussion on the situation around this enterprise, the president’s press-service told BelTA.
The head of state demanded to push up the quality of the “Motovelo” products – bicycles and motorcycles – which, according to the president, should not yield to that of other international manufacturers.
Alexander Lukashenko set a precise task: the company should manufacture only up-to-date products. Nobody needs the so-called ‘middling stuff’. Here the Belarusian leader gave an instruction to rebuild the positions of the enterprise on the traditional markets.
The Belarusian leader pointed to the necessity to exclude the non-cash types of payment in the activity of the enterprise.
HEWLETT-PACKARD SENDS PILOT CONSIGNMENT OF COMPUTERS TO NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BELARUS
From The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders a joint programme of the FIDH and the OMCT and Charter ‘97
The company HP (Hewlett-Packard), one of the world’s leaders of computer and peripheral equipment, has sent a pilot consignment of computers and software to the National Library of Belarus, HP regional director for Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan and Mongolia Mikhail Sarkisov told a press conference today in Minsk.
According to him, within the framework of the project the company plans to create an IT infrastructure based on HP server solutions, which will ensure an efficient access to the information resources of the library.
Mikhail Sarkisov named the HP technologies for the National Library unique, which have no analogues in the CIS.
Valeriy Sysoyev, general director of the republican unitary company “Agat-System” (Minsk) explained to BelTA that the HP equipment for storage and processing of data has been stationed at the facility and is undergoing testing. “Agat-System” is the designer of a set of information and technological system for the National Library which is presently being under construction.