by Alastair Rabagliati
The recent release of political prisoners gave rise to the hope that there may also be an improvement in the electoral environment in Belarus. However the non-registration of candidates, following on from earlier harassment of prospective candidates means that the situation remains unchanged in practice from earlier elections. While there is a slight hope that a few opposition people may enter Parliament, there is virtually no remaining doubt that candidates could be freely elected.
In spite of the promising sign from the authorities in the release of the political prisoners, it appears that no similar progress can be expected for the Parliamentary elections. While the majority (76) of the United
Democratic Forces (UDF) candidates were registered, 20 candidates who successfully submitted signatures or party nominations were not registered. Although this is a small improvement on 2004 when only around
half the opposition candidates were registered, it is a clear sign that the Belarusian authorities are only making minor changes regarding the openness of the election process.
The most significant trend has been the non-registration of regional and young candidates who have run strong local campaigns.
Examples of this include Sergey Salash and Dmitry Kukhley in two regional towns of Borisov and Mosty where the opposition has been particularly active in recent times. Both were seen as potentially strong candidates, with Salash only being denied a seat in local elections after an enforced re-count in 2003. Amongst other
non-registered candidates were Yury Karetnikov and Ales Lahviniets (who was running as an independent). These are two of the most active young opposition figures in Minsk who have developed a name for their
work on a continuous basis with their local electorate. It appears that as a result they were seen as a threat by the authorities and thus were denied registration – also perhaps as their activity and engagement with
the local population came as a contrast to the ageing and increasingly inactive leadership of the political parties in Minsk.