Monday, March 20, 2006

Belarus, EU, Australia, and Katrina - Mar 20

It appears that any hope of a 'people power' revolution in Belarus is going to fizzle out. Lukashenko is too powerful, too well connected and the opposition too fragmented for any hope of immediate change. This thing might still take off but I doubt it. Here are some other article that have crossed my desk that I hope you'll find interesting.

In Australia, some photos of the damage of Cyclone Larry.

In New Orleans, the dead are still being counted seven months after Katrina.

When a standing U.S. president declares that it will defend Israel, that usually bodes ill for the region.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, call for a 'U.N. of religions' Yikes!

In the EU, a move continues towards a common driver's license an EU-wide arrest warrant.

And just because it's my blog and not yours, here is a cool picture of Cindy Klassen.

Geopolitical Diary: The Elections in Belarus - Mar 20, 2006

The presidential election in Belarus came and went on Sunday very much as expected. Turnout was high, incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenko won an overwhelming majority of the vote, and no other candidates made it to double digits. There had been only two questions of consequence prior to the vote: One, would there be violence; and two, would the opposition be able to remain intact after the election? There seemed for a time to be cause for concern about the first issue. In the run-up to Sunday's ballot, it appeared that authorities were preparing for a serious crackdown if protesters gave them opportunity. Several opposition members and even a candidate were arrested on dubious charges: The Belarusian KGB claimed to have discovered incriminating documents and proof -- involving international organizations -- that a coup was being planned. Poland, Georgia, Ukraine and Lithuania were accused of planning to instigate violence and disorder.As of this writing, however, no violence had occurred. Nearly 30,000 people took part in a peaceful march in the main square of Minsk on Sunday, with a similar demonstration planned for Monday. Freezing temperatures played the biggest role in disbanding Sunday's protest, though there have been some allegations that authorities contributed to the weather using snow-making machines.International observers were present at voting stations and generally found the proceedings satisfactory. In Belarus, however, that counts for little. Approximately 30 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, during which there was little or no monitoring and plenty of opportunity for falsification. And while Lukashenko refrained from using his allotted broadcast time to boost his campaign, his face and slogans inundated the media. According to the Russian think tank Yuri Levada Center, which conducted exit polls, Lukashenko gathered only 45 percent of the vote (a mere 30 percent in the capital, Minsk), while Aleksandr Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, took 30 percent -- enough to qualify for a run-off vote. The exit polls officially publicized by the Central Elections Committee, however, projected that Lukashenko took from 80 percent to more than 90 percent of the vote -- with more than 70 percent of the ballots counted -- and cited voter turnout of approximately 90 percent. The committee, which is beholden to the president, has done its duty in announcing numbers that give Lukashenko the desired showing of support, and a second round of voting will not be held.Dubious though appearances may be, the truth is that Lukashenko does enjoy significant support in Belarus. It may not be the overwhelming majority the central election committee's numbers reflect, but a large number of citizens are indeed grateful to him for the economic growth, political stability and peace Belarus has experienced during his 12 years in power. Most of that stability, of course, stems from Russia's ongoing and almost total subsidization of Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a great fan of Lukashenko's, but Moscow still needs Minsk as a buffer against the West. Belarus borders both European Union and NATO countries -- and with Ukraine constantly on the brink of falling into the embrace of the West, Putin is not about to give up his comrade.Belarus' neighbors to the West certainly have their own hopes for regime change. Poland and Lithuania actively direct political broadcasts into Belarus and support the opposition. The banned European Humanities University has taken up residence in Vilnius, only a couple hours' drive from its former location in Minsk. In western Belarus, there is a sizeable Polish minority, which has sided with the opposition and has been persecuted alongside it. Countries that have become "experts" at electoral revolutions -- Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia -- have sent representatives to train and support the Belarusians. Their goal now is to keep the opposition coalition intact until another opportunity -- whether to take power or even just to take a public stand -- presents itself.Not surprisingly, Milinkevich -- the leader of the united opposition -- has claimed that Sunday's vote was fraudulent. However, the truth is that neither Milinkevich, a former physicist, nor another opposition candidate, Aleksandr Kozulin, ever had a realistic chance of winning. Kozulin ran an outspoken and provocative campaign, but Milinkevich -- who has called for peaceful demonstrations -- did everything possible to stay within the law, including refraining from lobbing insults at Lukashenko (a new law carries a five-year prison sentence for "insulting the credibility of the government"). Had the administration wished to silence him, officials easily could have pinned charges on him (as they have with many of his staff and supporters). The fact that Milinkevich is supported abroad matters little to Lukashenko -- he has never cared what others say about him so long as he retains Russia's backing.However, Western interests do have a part to play if Milinkevich is to hold his coalition together. With the election results a foregone conclusion, attention to Belarus naturally will subside. For the opposition to maintain support will require continuous appeals to the EU, the United States and to international organizations for sanctions against Belarus or any action intended to affect Lukashenko's regime.Milinkevich, then, may retain the ability to rally his supporters, but it is Russia -- which has a geopolitical need for Belarus and the status quo -- that will dictate political realities in Minsk for the foreseeable future. The opposition's only course of action now is to hold on for better times. Its success will depend on its patience.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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