Monday, September 12, 2016

For First Time in 20 Years, Two Opposition Figures Win Seats in Belarusian Parliament

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – For the first time since Alyaksandr Lukashenka took power, two opposition figures have won seats in elections to the Belarusian parliament, a development that has sparked discussions about what this means as far as Minsk’s relations with Russia and the West are concerned and what it portends for the future of political life in Belarus.

            Because Lukashenka’s party took all the other seats and because the election was anything but fair and free (, no one is suggesting this marks the arrival of a new age. Instead, they are focusing on the messages Lukashenka appears to want to send and on the way in which the presence of opposition deputies will change the parliament.

            Moscow’s Regnum news agency today provides a commentary on what the election of two opposition figures means – and what it doesn’t mean.  Natalya Michalkova says that the election of two opposition figures is “not an indication of the weakness of the Belarusian authorities but on the contrary a demonstration of the strength of President Lukashenka, addressed in the first instance to the West” (

            According to her, “the Belarusian authorities wanted to show that the opposition is not being subject to harsh repression or blocked from participating in honest elections in order them to have its voice in the parliament. However,” she continues, “the general message to the West is that on the whole, the opposition in Belarus does not set the weather and will not be capable of influencing the political and economic course of the ruling party.”

            As far as Russia is concerned, Michalkova says, this “unexpected” development will not affect Minsk’s relationship with Moscow or Belarusian participation in the Eurasian Union or other Russian-led integration projects.  Thus, she suggests, it would be a mistake to make too much of this development.

            The two new opposition deputies, Anna Konopatskaya from the OGP and Elena Anisim from the Community for the Belarusian Langauge, also appear to be modest in the expectations about what they will be able to achieve. The two don’t know each other, although they may find a common language, and they hope but have no way of knowing whether they will be able to push Minsk toward greater cooperation with the West (  and

            The reactions of the Belarusian opposition so far have been cautious but optimistic.  Mikhail Yanchuk, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, says that “today we woke up in a somewhat different country not because ‘the powers allowed us to’ but because we for many months have been pushing for this” (

            Svetlana Kalinkina, the editor of “Narodnaya volya,” adds that no one should think the recent voting was a real election, but she says that the wins by two opposition deputies is “good news” because “it shows that the Belarusian authorities no longer will simply ignore alternative points of view.” They had tried to “destroy the opposition;” now, they will try to integrate it.

            Whether the powers that be succeed will depend on these two new deputies, she says (

            And Aleksey Yanukevich of the Belarusian Popular Front echoes this view. According to him, Lukashenka’s regime has come up with an original and unexpected tactic, allowing some members of the most constructive opposition entrance into the parliament in order to try to show himself more open (

            He says that this allows for the conclusion that “the powers have understood that they cannot maintain total control at any price and in complete isolation” because that threatens their own hold on power.  They “do not intend to handover control … but [they] have been forced to try some new methods.”  Those methods, however, open new possibilities for the opposition.

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