Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 21, 2001

21 August 2001, Volume 3, Number 31
OPPOSITION WANTS MORATORIUM ON SELL-OFFS BEFORE ELECTIONS. Last week the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) called on the government to freeze state sell-offs ahead of the 23 September parliamentary elections and warned that it will examine any approved privatization deals after the polls, Reuters reported.

Jerzy Buzek's cabinet -- desperate to fill the budget gap -- wants to seal key deals, including stakes in the telecommunications giant TPSA; the country's top insurer PZU; and Poland's two largest fuel firms, PKN Orlen and Rafineria Gdanska.

"We will look into those [past privatization] deals, but that is not to say we would seek to annul them," SLD leader Leszek Miller, who is widely expected to be Poland's next prime minister, said at a news conference. "But in the case of all privatizations, the letter of the law has to be followed and the deals must respect the health of the Polish economy," Miller added.

The SLD asked Buzek's cabinet to avoid "hasty and chaotic privatizations" in the last few weeks of its tenure. "Rzeczpospolita" on 17 August quoted top SLD politician Wieslaw Kaczmarek -- who is widely predicted to become the next treasury minister -- as saying the SLD will reject selling large stakes to one buyer and will opt for diversified shareholdings.

The state treasury has so far brought in a mere 12 percent of its ambitious 18 billion zloty ($4.2 billion) sell-off revenue target in 2001, and analysts say growing pressure to speed up sales may make it tough to extract good sales prices.

OSCE MONITORS ARRIVE IN MINSK. The OSCE, which routinely monitors elections in a number of countries in transition in Central and Eastern Europe, were first barred from traveling to Belarus at the beginning of August. Observers from the organization's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not receive the necessary invitations and visas, despite assurances from Belarus officials that they would be sent.

By mid-August, the monitoring team again expected to depart for Minsk -- but once again the long-promised invitation and visas failed to materialize. The ODIHR warned that the credibility of the election result was now doubtful.

Invitations finally arrived on 15 August, and the following day the monitors received word from the Belarusian embassies in Warsaw and Kyiv that the visas were finally ready. There was just one catch -- the Belarus Foreign Ministry, they were told, "was not giving clearance" to one American and one British monitor.

Branimir Radev is the deputy head of the ODIHR's election department. He said the monitors who have arrived in Minsk will now have to hurry to prepare for the 9 September polling day:

"We have to do what we need to do in a much shorter time. We don't have a week to prepare to deploy our long-term observers from the ground. They don't have sufficient time to prepare," Radev said. "That is the time [indicated] by our standards before. Now we have to do that in a much shorter time."

Once they begin their mission, the ODIHR and other monitors are unlikely to have an easy time of it.

The incumbent president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has made no secret of his contempt for the OSCE. He has accused them of siding with the opposition and of preparing what he called a "Kostunica" scenario, a reference to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who ousted Slobodan Milosevic last year on the back of popular protest.

Hrair Balian, who heads the monitoring operation, said on 16 August that the OSCE will not be allowed to observe sessions of the Central Election Commission, which is staffed exclusively by supporters of Lukashenka. Nor will they be permitted close monitoring of the tabulation of results sent in by local polling offices. Balian said all these measures will restrict OSCE's ability to say whether the election was democratic.

In another blow to independent monitors, the Belarus Justice Ministry said on 16 August that exit polls are forbidden under the electoral code and are punishable by prison sentences or several months of hard labor.

Radev says that the ODIHR does not conduct parallel counts or exit polls, but adds that such a restriction will seriously hamper the efforts of NGOs hoping to publish exit polls after voting has closed.

Lukashenka's three challengers -- Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, and Syarhey Haydukevich -- face substantial obstacles. Despite widespread hardship in the country, support for Lukashenka is still high, particularly among older voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union and appreciative of a state-provided welfare safety net.

A decree limits foreign aid being used to support democracy. Protestors risk arrest or worse. And the offices of independent newspapers have repeatedly been the target of break-ins by unknown intruders.

Opposition leaders such as Anatol Lyabedzka have warned that falsifications could happen at so-called "pre-election" polls. Under this unusual arrangement, various state employees are obliged to vote over a two-week period running up to 9 September. Since the economy is still overwhelmingly in state hands, a sizeable chunk of the electorate might vote in this manner.

With this as the backdrop to the election, Hancharyk -- the single candidate of a broad democratic coalition -- is under no illusion about the size of the task ahead. Speaking after his registration last week, Hancharyk said it is unlikely that the election will be democratic. But he added that the opposition should be active in informing the people about the situation.

"Unfortunately, there are few grounds to hope that our election will be honest and fair. That is why we will be preparing ourselves for a difficult situation where we will have to take all measures that remain within the law, mainly in informing the population," Hancharyk said.

But even this is likely to prove difficult.

The four candidates have divvied up media time for their political broadcasts. Domash will be the first of the opposition coalition to appear on television on 21 August.

But the three weeks remaining before the election will have to make up for entire years in which access has been denied. Even name recognition of the opposition candidates among the general public is limited.

Under such circumstances, the challenges facing election monitors seem especially steep. Radev, the deputy head of ODIHR, says he plans to travel to Minsk at the beginning of September -- if, he says, he gets a visa.

(RFE/RL correspondent Kathleen Knox wrote this report with contributions from Bohdan Andrusyshyn of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.)

OPPOSITION'S ACCORD ON SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Below is the text of the Belarusian opposition accord on a single presidential candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The text, published in "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 15 August, was translated by translators from the BBC.

A broad civil coalition represented by plenipotentiaries of political parties, public associations on the one hand, and the aspirants to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus -- the single candidate from the broad civil coalition, Uladzimir Ivanavich Hancharyk, and Syamyon Mikalayevich Domash -- on the other hand, proceeding from responsibility for the fate of the Republic of Belarus and the necessity to bring the Republic of Belarus back to the way of democratic development, have signed the following agreement:

1. [Uladzimir] Hancharyk, [Syamyon] Domash, [former presidential hopefuls Syarhey] Kalyakin, [Pavel] Kazlouski, [Mikhail] Marynich, [Mikhail] Chyhir, and [Alyaksandr] Yarashuk complete the unification of their election headquarters and structures into the headquarters of the single candidate from the broad civil coalition. The united election headquarters carries out all the necessary activities for the registration of Hancharyk and Domash as candidates to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus.

2. After Hancharyk has been registered as a candidate to the post of the president, Domash will withdraw in Hancharyk's favor in accordance with agreements reached earlier.

3. After Hancharyk has been registered as a candidate to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus, Domash becomes the head of the political council in the headquarters of the single candidate.

4. In case of the registration of only one of the aspirants, all the participants in this agreement will support him as the single candidate from the broad civil coalition.

5. If the ruling regime makes obstacles to the registration of Hancharyk as a candidate to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus, the united headquarters and the two aspirants will act in a coordinated manner and will use all legal means for ensuring registration, including appeals to international organizations and conduct of mass protests.

6. If the single candidate from the broad civil coalition is elected president, he shall form the government headed by the other aspirant, who had submitted the necessary amount of signatures for registration to the Central Election Commission, and hand over part of the presidential functions to the government (within the framework of the process of division of powers).

7. In case of his victory at the presidential elections, the single candidate from the broad civil coalition shall conduct democratic parliamentary elections and propose the same candidate to the post of prime minister for approval by parliament.

8. In the area of state construction the single candidate shall:

-- Guarantee the restoration of a democratic system in the country based on the principles of division of power, the supremacy of law and parliamentarism; limitation of the president's functions; restoration of parliament's functions; broadening the functions of the government and local governing bodies; and independence of the judiciary and freedom of the mass media, including the creation of a public television channel.

-- Ensure the election of parliament and local legislative bodies in accordance with the mixed proportional majority system and approval of the government by parliament; and guarantee the restoration of full control for parliament and local governing bodies over budgets and other state funds.

-- Ensure amendments to electoral legislation that would guarantee the formation of electoral commissions with the participation of political parties and public associations, and noninterference of power bodies in their activities.

-- Set a course for the dynamic development of the economy and increase the population's living standards.

-- Guarantee unconditional adherence to the constitutional provisions about sovereignty, independence, and neutrality; carry out effective multidirectional foreign policy, the main principle of which is strengthening close mutually beneficial partner relations with Russia, Ukraine, and other countries; ensure Belarus's integration into European political, economic, and humanitarian spheres. Create favorable conditions for the development of national culture, language, traditions, and the use of national historical symbols of the Belarusian people.

9. The leaders of the political parties, public associations, and public and political figures who have signed the present agreement shall mobilize all of their resources to provide all possible support to the single opposition candidate to ensure his victory in the forthcoming presidential elections and to conduct necessary political and economic reforms after his victory in the elections.

This agreement is open for other political parties and public associations to join.

[Signed by]
Single candidate from the broad civil coalition, Uladzimir Hancharyk.
Aspirant to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus, Syamyon Domash.
Syarhey Kalyakin
Pavel Kazlowski
Mikhail Chyhir
Mikhail Marynich
Alyaksandr Yarashuk
The agreement has been signed by political parties' representatives:
Vintsuk Vyachorka
Anatol Lyabedzka
Stanislaw Shushkevich
Mikalay Statkevich
Valyantsina Palevikova
Alyaksandr Bukhvostau
A. Hramyka
M. Frydlyand
On behalf of public movements and organizations -- Vasil Lyavonaw (For a New Belarus)

MORE ALLEGATIONS HIT KUCHMA. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who last year publicized secret audio recordings from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's office, held a news conference in Washington on 14 August with the participation of Ukrainian lawmakers Oleksandr Yelyashkevich and Viktor Shyshkin. Among other media outlets, the news conference was covered by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, and Interfax.

Melnychenko said he made "many more than 300 hours" of secret recordings in Kuchma's office. He added: "I can assuredly say one thing: If there is legal and technical assistance in making transcriptions of those conversations [in Kuchma's office], we will catch traces of a broad circle of criminals, not only on Ukraine's territory. For example, when Kuchma talks with one businessman about how Russian gas is stolen, how many dollars they pay to one politician or another or to businessmen in Russia and other countries, and about how much they leave for themselves -- they begin whispering. And this is a technical problem how to make those names audible. The conversation took place after [Premier Viktor] Yushchenko's government and Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko had began fighting that scheme [of gas siphoning]. And Kuchma's entourage reported with horror that [the government's measures] were ruining its financial support. Therefore, I think we are still facing [the transcription of] very important and interesting information that will lead many people to become disappointed with some politicians," Melnychenko said.

Melnychenko said he is ready to cooperate with Russian and U.S. law-enforcement authorities in revealing corruption on the part of Ukrainian officials in these countries. Melnychenko added that he wants "the Ukrainian side" to participate in this cooperation. He said recordings testify that President Kuchma is guilty of violating Russian and U.S. laws as well as of committing other offenses "that are punishable throughout the world."

Melnychenko also said Kuchma knew that independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was dead as soon as five days after Gongadze's disappearance in September last year.

Meanwhile, Shyshkin -- the deputy head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission for investigating the Gongadze case -- said Melnychenko's recordings testify to "corrupt and illegal activities linked to gas [trading in Ukraine]" and to the Ukrainian president's alleged complicity in illegal arms trade.

Shyshkin also said Melnychenko's recordings confirm that the Ukrainian gas and oil company Ukrnaftohaz illegally sponsored Kuchma's election campaign. According to Melnychenko, Kuchma appointed Ihor Bakay to head Ukrnaftohaz after Bakay promised to pay $250 million for the president's election campaign.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 13 August that he has evidence that President Kuchma obtained $3.7 million as a bribe from former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko.

"Everybody has gone mad because of the presidential elections." -- A mother, commenting on the arrest of her son by a police patrol in Minsk for wearing a T-shirt with the inscription "Vremya ubirat" (Time To Remove); quoted by Belapan on 18 August. The Russian verb "ubirat" has a number of other meanings apart from "remove" -- to kick out; to tidy out; and to harvest. T-shirts with such an inscription, which infuriate Belarusian police, are worn by members of the Zubr (Bison) youth organization.