The Levant News — Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power for 21 years, is virtually certain to win a fifth term in office on Sunday in an election observers say is unlikely to see the kind of violent mass protests that marred the 2010 poll.
“The West is interested in Belarus’s stability. It wants peaceful elections that can be seen as bringing progress in terms of democracy and human rights,” said Yury Tsarik of the Belarussian Center for Strategic and Political Research.
A sense of apathy among ordinary Belarussians, combined with a strong desire for stability in the face of a more assertive Russia and a crisis-plagued Ukraine, mean few observers expect large-scale protests as in 2010, when Lukashenko had his main opponents jailed.
A former opposition presidential candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, has called for pre-election protests, but turnout at similar events in recent months has been in the low hundreds.
While Russia retains significant influence in Belarus, not least as one its main lenders, Lukashenko has on occasion been at pains to show his independence.
The European Union is an important trade partner for Belarus and the release of the six prisoners in August prompted some in Brussels to argue for the future lifting of trade barriers.
A larger export market would be welcome to Belarus, whose economy has been battered this year by the slump in Russia’s rouble currency.
Belarus’ gross domestic product shrank by 3.5 percent in the January-August period and the average monthly wage has fallen by about a third in dollar terms since the start of the year to $420.
Lukashenko, 61, keeps tight control of his country’s mass media and none of the three candidates running against him in Sunday’s poll represent a serious challenge to his rule.
“The economic crisis should logically have led to a fall in trust, but this was neutralized by the Ukraine crisis, which seriously scared Belarussian society,” said Valery Karbalevich, who has written a biography of the president.
“Lukashenko cast himself as the guarantor of peace and security … and this image worked.”