Belarus has enacted several electoral law reforms, invited the OSCE/ODIHR monitors to the country for the Dec 19 presidential elections, and viable candidates have appeared to contest it. Regardless of these developments, the expected outcome is a fourth term for President Alexander Lukashenko. The slumping economy could make it a smaller margin of victory than usual. Courting voters, Lukashenko has raised public sector pay and plans a 5 per cent hike in the minimum wage before the poll.
The gifts for voters, which have irked the International Monetary Fund, are likely to have been unnecessary. Analysts say Lukashenko remains popular among many in the nation of 10 million, and, as his government controls most media, his voice is louder than his critics. Divisions in the opposition help fortify his, Lukashenko's, incumbency. The analysts point out that the real test for Lukashenko comes in December when Russia aims to raise Belarus gas prices from the current US $185 per thousand cubic meters to as much as US $250, threatening social stability. RFERL reports that Lukashenko has taken the precaution of becoming friendlier with the European Union. In November Brussels sent the message to Minsk that if he holds an electionBrussels can accept as democratic, the European Union will disburse 3 billion euros (US $3.9 billion) to support his regime. The European Union and the and United States have long shunned Lukashenko. They accuse him of maintaining power through illegitimate elections and harshly suppressing dissent, but the Europeans have softened their stance in recent years. The change in EU foreign policy was seen around the launch of the Eastern Partnership in 2008. The bloc is keen to leave open the door to better relations with the post-Soviet country in order to protect its independence from Russia. ; The International Monetary Fund said the Belarus economy grew 0.2 per cent in 2009 after showing 10 per cent growth a year earlier. The fund has criticized the gifts for voters because they are expected to cost US $2.3 billion and double Belarus's expected budget deficit.
Date written/update: 2010-12-19