Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Run up to Belarus presidential elections

Delivered in Plenary - 15th February 2006

Mr President

19 March marks the Belarus presidential election, in which there is still a chance that the country will assume its rightful place in the European family of democracies and conduct a free and fair election. However, in reality, the chances are very small, as President Lukashenko, since his election in 1994, has turned his country into a self-isolated police state and a sham democracy.

The already poor human rights situation has deteriorated further since the passing of the anti-revolutionary law, aimed at suppressing protests, and many opposition leaders are jailed on spurious offences of corruption or, in some cases, simply made to disappear, presumably murdered. Mr Lukashenko preaches a curious pan-Slavic, anti-Western nationalism, with an added cult of personality.

Independent polls give him around 55% support. It is believed that he will do whatever is necessary to achieve the magic figure of 77%. Registration for candidates is due by 21 February, and I salute the courage of the United Opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, who will be restricted in his campaign to two 30-minute TV and radio interviews, whereas Mr Lukashenko will spend what he likes and appear as Head of State on the media daily, accusing his opponents of being thugs or Western mercenaries.

I call on Belarus to allow for the right for independent exit polls to be conducted to help verify the results, but this request is unlikely to be heeded. Not surprisingly, this Parliament has not been invited to observe the elections, but the Conference of Presidents should authorise a budget for MEPs to attend via the OSCE. Russia also needs to be reminded that, as it bankrolls the regime with very cheap gas at $50 per 1000 m3, it should support democracy there, being a full member of the Council of Europe.

Lastly, I welcome, as Commissioner Borg mentioned, the TACIS EUR 2 million dedicated to free broadcasting in Belarus and supporting civil society.