New Parliament, old problems
97 members of the House of Representatives of the 110-seat lower house of Belarus's National Assembly were officially registered by the Central Electoral Committee on Thursday. The West declined to accept the outcome, branding the elections unfree and unfair.
The runoff in Belarus's controversial parliamentary elections took place on 29 October in 56 constituencies, with an average turnout of 53.7 per cent. At least a 25 per cent turnout was needed to validate the runoff. 41 MPs were elected in the first round on 15 October. The majority of the Belarusian opposition boycotted the election, saying it was merely a farce.
Leaders of three opposition parties (Siarhiej Kaliakin of the Communists, Siarhiej Hajdukievič of Liberal Democrats and Mikola Statkievič of Social Democrats) ran for seats in the House of Representatives. But, in the first round, elections in their constituencies were declared invalid, due to a lack of voters (all of Miensk's other constituencies were officially lucky enough to proceed to the runoff).
Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidzija Jarmošyna said the new Parliament includes Voľha Abramava, the leader of Belarusian NGO "Jablyk" (supported by Russia's Yabloko) and Uladzimier Navasiad, head of the youth organisation "Civil Forum." Both are viewed as moderate opposition. Only 11 international observers took part in monitoring the runoff. They were mainly leftists from neighbouring Ukraine, although estranged US journalist Bill Thomas got an official accreditation as an international observer.
On the runoff day, about 1000 opposition supporters marched through central Miensk to Kurapaty, on the outskirts of the city, where thousands of Belarusians were shot dead in the 1930s by Stalin's regime. The traditional mourning march was sanctioned by authorities, but head of the presidential administration Mixaś Miaśnikovič said that a turnout of "only 600 participants at the Remembrance Day rally proves Belarusian people do not trust the radically minded opposition."
A change of mind?
Just after voting, Belarusian President Aliaksandar Lukašenka told reporters he is ready (prior to the 2001 presidential election) to take certain measures in order to extend the new Parliament's powers within the current Constitution. Four years ago, he launched a referendum which was not recognised by the West or the Belarusian opposition, but it enabled him to dissolve Parliament, the Supreme Soviet, and cut its functions short.
Now, Lukašenka said he was examining a series of proposals for delegating certain presidential powers to the Parliament and the government.
The President vowed to make "serious radical steps" towards enhancing the powers of the National Assembly and added that he does not rule out a referendum on the issue, but only after the elections next year.
Lukašenka also said he is not going to make any crucial changes in the existing political system before the presidential election. Asked what election will be next—the presidential election or the one that would create the parliament of the Belarus-Russia Union State—Lukašenka told reporters he is being supported by his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin in his desire to put things right inside Belarus first.
The shape of the house
The new House of Representatives has 35 deputies from the former parliamentary corps. Only 15 MPs represent political parties. The pro-Lukašenka Communist Party of Belarus and the Agrarian Party got the largest number of seats—six and five respectively.
The Central Electoral Commission decided the new chamber should gather for the first time on 21 November. Its current speaker and a new MP, Anatol Malafejew, "completely agree with President Lukašenka," who promised to give more powers to the new Parliament. Malafejew told Interfax-West there were issues which may be solved without amending the Constitution, prior to the presidential elections.
According to Malafejew, the Chamber of Representatives "has not purposefully examined the draft law on the National Assembly" regulating the Parliament's rights and obligations as well as its relations with the other branches of power. "I hope that the new Parliament will work intensively on the draft law without breaching the Constitution," he added.
In particular, Malafejew cited the poor co-ordination of certain parliamentary activities. For example, the House of Representatives has the right to approve the appointment but not the resignation of the Prime Minister. Malafejew also defined the timeframe for transforming the President's "temporary" decrees into laws. Lidzija Jarmošyna, head of the Central Electoral Commission, announced that the presidential election must be held no later than 27 September 2001.
When asked if current Prime Minister Uladzimier Jarmošyn (no relation to Lidzija) can become a presidential candidate, Lidzija Jarmošyna replied: "No, he cannot." According to the amended Constitution, only a Belarusian by birth can become President, and Jarmošyn was born in Russia.
There were rumours that the new Russian leadership was eager to replace the unpredictable Lukašenka with the more civilized Jarmošyn, the former mayor of Miensk. Now it is clear he is not able to run for the presidency.
Jarmošyna has also dismissed all complaints from the opposition of fraud and violations of laws during the last elections, while Lukašenka has branded the whole campaign "elegant."
The state-run TV controlled by the President broadcast a number of propaganda films depicting the opposition as Nazi followers and US-funded traitors. The nine-o'clock-news presenter read a colourful statement written by Chairman of National TV and Radio Company Viktar Čykin, who still holds the title of the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus (loyal to Lukašenka).
Siarhiej Kaliakin, the chief of the rival Party of Communists, which is opposed to President, called upon all Communists to think twice before voting for Kaliakin. Soon after that, Čykin was taken to hospital after he suffered a serious heart attack.
Yuri Svirko, 3 November 2000
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