It’s been years since things looked so good – and so bad – for the opposition in Belarus.
by Rodger Potocki
As the campaign leading up to Belarus’ 19 December presidential election enters its final weeks, the democratic opposition might seem in a good position to challenge the incumbent, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The country’s authoritarian leader has staked his popularity on promises of “prosperity and stability,” but Belarus has less of both at the moment. Disagreements over economic, military, and foreign policy issues have sparked a crisis in relations with Russia, Belarus’ most important ally and economic lifeline. The global financial crisis, a faltering state-run economy, and cuts in subsidies from Moscow are battering the country. As a result, the president is trying to resuscitate his regime by improving relations with the European Union. The rapprochement has led to limited liberalization and the country’s freest election campaign since Lukashenka came to power in 1994.
That should be good news for the opposition, which faced harsher realities and repression in past campaigns. Lukashenka has often called them enemies of the people, but these days, the opposition is proving to be its own worst enemy. It has failed to unite around a common candidate or offer a coherent vision for the country. Instead, opposition leaders pursue individual ambitions and partisan interests. While the regime is weaker than it was in 2006, so is the democratic opposition.