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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 17, 2000

17 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 38
OLECHOWSKI MANEUVERS IN THE CENTER. Andrzej Olechowski, who came second in the 8 October presidential ballot with 17.3 percent backing, has resolved to capitalize on his rather unexpected election success. Olechowski, who was not backed in his presidential bid by any political party, has called for a new coalition in Poland's political center to keep the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance from winning parliamentary elections next year.

Olechowski announced last week that he wants not a formal political party but an "association" that could group several centrist parties. "I have sent letters to [Freedom Union leader] Leszek Balcerowicz and [Conservative-Peasant Party leader] Jan Maria Rokita with a suggestion to begin talks on a coordinated political representation for the center," Olechowski was quoted by PAP as saying on 13 October. Simultaneously Olechowski denied the suggestion voiced previously by his election team aides that he wants to form a "political movement" tentatively named "New Center."

Balcerowicz has already responded that he is willing to talk with Olechowski. Rokita's party--a component of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) bloc--demanded last week that AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski step down following what is widely seen as his humiliating defeat in the presidential elections. Some observers say Rokita may also be willing to talk with Olechowski if Krzaklewski refuses to resign.

OSCE SAYS 15 OCTOBER BALLOT UNDEMOCRATIC. The OSCE Minsk mission on 16 October said the previous day's ballot to the Chamber of Representatives fell short of international standards for democratic elections, Reuters reported. "In particular, the minimum requirements were not met for the holding of free, fair, equal, accountable, and open elections," the mission said in a statement based on conclusions from the OSCE technical assessment mission which worked in Belarus last week.

The European parliamentary troika--the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe--concurred with the OSCE mission's conclusion. The troika's representatives who were present in Belarus during the ballot said they will recommend to their organizations to postpone the normalization of relations with the Belarusian authorities until Minsk makes progress on meeting international election standards.

Meanwhile, Russian observers led by Russian Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev contradicted the OSCE announcement, saying the Belarusian elections were "legitimate," dpa reported. And President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 October congratulated the Belarusian leader on "the successful holding of free and democratic parliamentary elections."

EXERCISE IN SIMULATED DEMOCRACY. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is an avid ice hockey player. Occasionally, Belarusian Television shows him chasing after a puck with his "vertical men" (another name in Belarus for executive officials). The latter go to great pains to assist the president in scoring a goal if they are on his side or take huge precautions not to be too rough toward him if they are playing against him. Lukashenka regularly wins because he always plays on his own ground, according to his own rules, and against opponents handicapped by the blinding fear of his unpredictable rule.

Lukashenka, it appears, modeled the 15 October elections to the Chamber of Representatives on his ice-hockey distractions. While his final victory may not be quite so clear-cut as on the ice rink, the election game has been certainly played according to his own rules.

At the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, Lukashenka committed himself to enter a "meaningful dialogue" with the opposition to overcome the "constitutional controversy" in Belarus. That controversy dates back to the November 1996 constitutional referendum in Belarus, which is widely believed to have been rigged. The referendum provided Lukashenka with virtually dictatorial powers and abolished Belarus's democratically elected legislature--the Supreme Soviet. None of the European countries recognized the 1996 constitutional changes in Belarus. The OSCE, for its part, specified four requirements for the Lukashenka regime to regain international legitimacy: democratizing the country's electoral code, giving the opposition access to the state-controlled media, expanding the powers of the current legislature, and improving the political climate in the country by stopping political persecution.

Instead of entering talks with the democratic opposition, Lukashenka orchestrated a "sociopolitical dialogue" with more than 100 public organizations, including associations of philatelists and anglers. The "sociopolitical" forum discussed everything in general and nothing in particular and succeeded in proposing only cosmetic amendments to the electoral code. The democratic opposition declined to take part in that "dialogue."

Shortly after the OSCE Istanbul summit, the opposition struck a deal with a representative of the Lukashenka administration on access to state media. Later, however, Lukashenka changed his mind, fired the official responsible for the conclusion of that deal, and ordered anti-opposition propaganda to be increased in the media.

Lukashenka argued that since the 1996 constitution cannot be revoked, he would not discuss any changes in the powers of the current legislature. In what was intended as a big sacrifice on his part but sounded like unintentional mockery, Lukashenka declared that he might consider giving the Chamber of Representatives a say in the appointment of ambassadors.

The democratic opposition refused to participate in the 15 October ballot and called for an election boycott. It did so for two fundamental reasons. First, the regime has not provided even the minimal conditions for democratic and fair elections. Second, the Chamber of Representatives has no effective control over the government and is unable to ensure the implementation of the laws it passes. In practice, Lukashenka rules the country by decree.

Some 60 democratic candidates sought to run in the 15 October elections on an independent ticket, but two-thirds of them were denied registration on technicalities. Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna jeered at those candidates on television, suggesting that they were not sufficiently literate to fill out the registration documents correctly (almost all of the would-be candidates from the opposition have university diplomas). Simultaneously, local electoral commissions eliminated potentially strong challengers to those whom Lukashenka wanted to be elected. More than 200 people were denied registration.

When it became clear that the authorities had minimized the risk of an undesirable candidate's victory, Lukashenka announced that Belarus would conduct "fully democratic elections" without engaging in fraud. He may well keep that promise since there is no need to rig anything--except the final turnout figure, if it proves to be below 50 percent. Regardless of who is elected, the president's adherents will form a commanding majority in the future legislature.

Only the U.S. unequivocally condemned Belarus's phony election campaign ahead of the 15 October vote, noting that international monitoring would have "lent legitimacy to a fundamentally flawed election process." Europe's election watchdog--the OSCE--succeeded in baffling both the Lukashenka regime and the Belarusian opposition by sending a technical assessment mission and a handful of other representatives whose status was unclear.

Were the OSCE to recognize Belarus's sham vote, the Belarusian democratic opposition would almost certainly be stripped of any political significance. At the same time, non-recognition of the ballot will hardly improve the oppositionists' standing. The opposition still faces the enormously difficult task of persuading its compatriots that their regime can be dismantled once they overcome their fear. "Inwardly we support the election boycott, but they may simply expel us from the university if we fail to vote," a student told an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk after casting her ballot.

It is primarily the sum of such fears, rather than the people's respect, that makes Lukashenka look invincible. But Lukashenka is afraid, too. That's why he won't risk testing his popularity in democratic elections.

WILL KYIV MANAGE TO GET TURKMEN GAS? Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, signed an agreement on 4 October in Ashgabat whereby Turkmenistan will provide Ukraine with 35 billion cubic meters of gas over the next 15 months at a total price of $1.2 billion at the Turkmen border. The 5 billion cubic meters Kyiv will purchase in 2000 will cost $38 and the remaining 30 billion cubic meters $40 per thousand cubic meters. Of that sum, 40 percent in 2000 and 50 percent in 2001 is to be paid in cash and the balance in goods and services. Kyiv will pay the transit fees for transportation of the gas to Ukraine. In addition, Ukraine must make weekly advance payments to Ashgabat of $7 million in cash and $9 million in goods and services. Turkmenistan will immediately stop gas supplies if Kyiv fails to make those advance payments.

Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko told the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" on 10 October that the price of Turkmen gas on the Ukrainian border will not exceed $60 for 1,000 cubic meters. "[The gas supplying company] Itera has clear-cut prices for transit services, and we are not going to break our trade relations with this company. At worst, the transit of [Turkmen gas] will cost $20 for 1,000 cubic meters.... After the signing of the Turkmen deal, we can confidently say that the price of gas [in Ukraine] will be dictated by the market.... If we are offered the same price or a lower one [by Russia], we are ready to balance the volume of gas purchased from Russia against that from Turkmenistan," Tymoshenko told the daily.

However, Interfax on 14 October quoted a "well-informed interlocutor from Moscow, who is close to the Russian-Ukrainian gas debt negotiations" as saying that Ukraine's Turkmen gas deal is not viewed as optimistically as it is by Tymoshenko. According to that interlocutor, the transit of Turkmen gas via Russia will cost $30-$35 for 1,000 cubic meters, so its price for Ukrainian consumers may reach $80 for 1,000 cubic meters. "Russia is ready to ship this gas through its territory but our position is that the transit should be paid for in cash; we will not accept unclear [payment] schemes," he noted.

Interfax's interlocutor also said the current price of Russian gas on the Ukrainian border is $100-$102 for 1,000 cubic meters but added that Russia may reduce this price to $80 if Ukraine agrees to pay for 50 percent of Russian gas supplies in cash and acknowledge the remaining 50 percent as a state credit from Russia. According to him, only following an agreement on Russia's current gas supplies to Ukraine, both sides may tackle the problem of Ukraine's past debts for Russian gas supplies. In particular, Interfax's interlocutor noted that Russia might accept the conversion of the Ukraine's gas debt into securities that could later be exchanged for Ukrainian property.

"I thought your 1995 election success was an accident on the road toward democracy. I thought your campaign style disgraceful and your political origin discrediting. This view was demonstrated, confirmed, and broadened during the last election campaign. However, the majority of voters has an opposite opinion, it is on your side, favors your style, and identifies with your roots. At this historical moment, nothing else remains for me to do than congratulate you and your voters." -- Lech Walesa in a letter to President-elect Aleksander Kwasniewski. Quoted by PAP on 10 October.

"The formation of a party is a difficult, ungrateful, and complicated task. I know something about this since I formed two parties in my life and I pulled out from one of them." -- Conservative Peasant Party leader Jan Maria Rokita commenting on the rumor that independent presidential challenger Andrzej Olechowski is to launch a new centrist party following his 17 percent showing in the 8 October presidential ballot. Quoted by PAP on 10 October.

"The non-recognition by international observers of the elections in Belarus will fully expose the face of the West before the Belarusian people." -- Lukashenka after casting a vote on 15 October. Quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.

"[Belarus's trade unions] are privileged to live under the last dictatorship in Europe." -- Marc Blondel, vice president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, addressing the congress of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus in Minsk on 10 October. Quoted by Belapan.

"[Belarus] will never be incorporated into any state--either the Grand Duchy of Lithuania [ed. note: ended in the 18th century] or the Russian Empire [ed. note: ended in 1917]." -- Lukashenka to the Chamber of Representatives on 12 October. Quoted by Belarusian Television.