Monday, March 20, 2006

Putin Backs Election Fraud, Again

Anyone harboring hope that Russian president Vladimir Putin is not succumbing to his authoritarian tendencies suffered yet another blow today with the presidential election results in Belarus. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory with 82.6 percent of the vote in a contest he termed "honest and democratic".

Putin (l.) and Lukashenko have a meeting of the minds

The United States, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe all beg to differ. The US claimed the election was run in a "climate of fear" and White House spokesman Scott McClellan echoed Belarussian opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich's calls for a new election. The OSCE stated that "a pattern of intimidation and the suppression of independent voices was evident."

But have no fear. Lukashenko is not left without a friend in the world. He always has old, reliable Vladimir Putin, who congratulated him on his victory, saying, "the results of the election testify to the fact that the voters trust in your course." Just as he has done in elections in Georgia and Ukraine, Putin comes down on the side of authoritarianism against democracy and reform. Maintaining Russian influence in former satellite states is Putin's goal—a goal that might make those of us who can remember the old Soviet Union a bit uneasy.

In addition to a history of rigged elections, Lukashenko and his henchman have been implicated in the disappearances of opposition candidates and journalists and have been accused of anti-Semitic activities. The Committee to Protect Journalists listed Belarus in the top 10 "Worst Places to be a Journalist" in 2003. It remains to be seen if Milinkevich and his supporters will be able to pressure Belarus into new elections—or whether they’ll be allowed to stage further protests at all. We all know what side Putin comes down on in all of this.

Last year the United States described Lukashenko as "Europe's last dictator." Vladimir Putin is well on his way to making that claim obsolete.
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