Time is running out for Lukashenko

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Belarus people attend a protest rally against the results of the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 30 August 2020. Opposition protests in Belarus continue against alleges poll-rigging and police violence at protests following election results claiming that president Lukashenko had won a landslide victory in the 09 August elections. [EPA-EFE/STRINGER]

Alexander Lukashenko lost the August elections in Belarus, and new polls must be held immediately. Anything else should be treated no differently from a coup d’etat, writes Andrius Kubilius.

Andrius Kubilius is a Member of the European Parliament, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, and a former Prime Minister of Lithuania.

In Belarus, people continue to defend their 9 August victory, and Lukashenko continues to target the protests with violence and relies on support of Putin. But nothing will change the fact that Lukashenko lost the election on 9 August. He knows that if free and fair elections were to take place, he would lose even more.

In responding to the “Belarus crisis”, two essential things must be in focus: Lukashenko has lost the election; and new elections must be held immediately, not “later on”.

5 November and Lukashenko

According to the Constitution, adopted under Lukashenko, his current term will end on 5 November – currently, Lukashenko is the President who lost 9 August elections and whose term in office expires on 5 November.

After 5 November, Belarus will not have a President. According to Article 81 of the current Constitution, “when the office of the President is vacant” extraordinary Presidential elections must be held no earlier than 30 days and no later than 70 days after the vacancy has occurred.

After 5 November, Lukashenko will be an ordinary Belarusian citizen that can be referred to as “the former President of Belarus”. If Lukashenko tries to organize “new inauguration” before 5 November, it will be nothing more than an illegal usurpation of power, possibly even with the use of military force. This should be treated as a coup.

After 5 November there will be no ‘President Lukashenko’ also from the international law perspective. He will either be “the former President” or “the coup d’etat chief Lukashenko”. This means that any dialogue or engagement with Lukashenko will no longer be possible. The international community will have to negotiate with the Prime Minister of Belarus, who will hold the office of President until the new elections are held, to ensure that genuinely democratic and transparent new Presidential elections are held no later than 70 days after 5 November.

Brussels, Berlin, Washington – and Moscow

Western democracies are showing solidarity with the Belarusian civic nation, while Putin does not hide his support for the regime of Lukashenko. Putin’s support is becoming the only factor allowing Lukashenko to hold on to the post.

Putin holds the keys to the door of Lukashenko’s withdrawal. That is why Western leaders call Lukashenko’s “boss”, Putin, to negotiate his withdrawal, rather than directly addressing Lukashenko himself. It is also quite clear that Putin is using these discussions to draw his own “red lines” on the geopolitical future of post-Lukashenko Belarus.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary changes in Belarus are turning into a trap for Putin. A dictator himself, Putin has many reasons to support Lukashenko, but his long-term support for the “toxic” Lukashenko may leave him just as “toxic” in the eyes of the Belarusians. And there is no good way out for him.

The role of the OSCE

The OSCE may be best placed to take action to address the current “Belarus crisis”. Primarily because its members are both in the West and in the East. OSCE is the only political organization on the European continent of which Belarus is a member. Also, the OSCE election observation body ODIHR does its job effectively.

Russia, also a member of the OSCE, will try to use the role of the OSCE to Lukashenko’s advantage to buy time. Therefore, the West, together with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, representing the democratic society of Belarus, should have a clear position: the role of the OSCE in resolving the “Belarus crisis” is solely needed to ensure transparent and democratic elections. It would be a mistake to enter into an indefinite OSCE-led negotiation process regarding any loosely defined “transitional period”.

No! – To the Lukashenko-Lavrov Plan: A new constitution, instead of new elections

One of the questions to be addressed immediately, in particular, by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Coordinating Council, is the plan announced by Lukashenko and promoted by Lavrov and Putin – to draft a new Constitution for Belarus, and postpone the new elections to after it has been adopted. Lukashenko makes no secret that the process could take a few years. It is quite clear that the Kremlin will seek to turn this procrastination plan into an OSCE-backed process.

The Western community should not fall into this trap. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya recently have said very clearly – no discussions about constitutional changes before new transparent elections will be held.

Marshall Plan for Democratic Belarus

Economy of Belarus will pose some of the most difficult challenges, as it is deeply integrated into the Russian economy and thus highly dependent on the Kremlin. As a result, one of the top priorities for EU in the near future will be to help diversify the Belarusian economy at the same time reducing its dependency on Russia. For that, we need a much larger support package of EUR 3.5-4 billion, which we could call the Marshall Plan for Democratic Belarus.

Spreading the news already now about such a Plan would help counter the propaganda and fear spread by the Lukashenko regime, predicting the detrimental effects that new elections and real democracy in Belarus would have on the Belarusian economy.

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The fate of the Belarusian democracy is being decided on the streets of Minsk. The victory of democracy will prevail. My optimism stems not only from faith in and admiration for the new civic Belarusian nation but also from a clear understanding that change in Belarus is driven by objective historical processes: the continued collapse of the Soviet/Russian Empire and its post-imperial spheres of influence as well as the end of the era of post-Soviet authoritarian leaders.

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