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Presidential elections in Belarus: no surprises are expected
 
The next presidential elections in Belarus are approaching and will be held on Sunday, 11 October. Alexander Lukashenko, who has been the country’s leader since independence, is running for his fifth term in a row and it currently seems highly unlikely that any of the three of his opponents win in the presidential race. 
 
The first reason for that is Lukashenko’s undisputable popularity among the majority of Belarusians eligible to vote (this mainly includes pensioners and blue collar workers). The second, and the most important, is the lack of a strong candidate from the opposition capable of presenting the electorate with an alternative to Lukashenko. The opposition is weak and is not running for elections as a united force with a clear strategy and programme on how to change life in Belarus for the better. At the same time, one of the factors giving an advantage to Lukashenko is that the elections are taking place on the background of the situation in neighbouring Ukraine and the World as a whole – the conflict in the Middle East, standoff between Russia and the West, refugee crisis in Europe, etc. The Belarusian press and television are actively covering these topics representing Belarus as being an ‘island of quiet amid a raging sea’ and underlining President Lukashenko’s merits in maintaining peace in his country. Therefore, the outcome of the elections can easily be predicted.
 
What is the main goal of Lukashenko’s presidential campaign? It is not just to guarantee him a victory, which is not in doubt, but to ensure the elections held are free of any serious violations and criticism from international observers, similar to that arising from previous elections, led to sanctions being imposed on Lukashenko, members of his close entourage and a number of the leading state-owned companies. 
 
Lukashenko’s role in hosting peace talks on Ukraine in Minsk and the pardon he granted on 22 August to six political prisoners have given him reason to hope that the sanctions may be suspended. Belarus-related sanctions imposed by the EU are valid until 31 October 2015 and there is a possibility that these might be lifted, though partly and in stages, upon the results of the elections. Once this has happened Belarus would be able to boost its presence in international markets and to get access to foreign financing and, therefore, decrease its dependency on Russia. Lukashenko is very much interested in this type of scenario. The West would also benefit from better relations with Belarus, which would also result in a weakening of the country’s ties with Russia. However, Lukashenko will be trying to use this situation in his favour skilfully manoeuvring between the West and Russia and negotiating greater gains for himself. He will, however, bear in mind that moving too close to the West may be dangerous for his ability to retain power going forward, at the same time as worsening relations with an ally such as Russia is undesirable.
 
9 October 2015
 
Integrica (c)
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