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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 18, 2000

18 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 15
SOLIDARITY LEADER ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID. Last week Marian Krzaklewski announced that he will run in this year's presidential elections. The announcement was made following a request by the Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement (headed by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek), a political party which jointly with other right-wing parties constitutes the ruling coalition under the name of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). An official decision on the AWS's support for Kwasniewski should be made by the AWS National Council later this week.

"This is one of the most important decisions in my life," Krzaklewski noted. "I believe that for the people of Solidarity nothing is impossible to achieve, that is why I have consented."

It is not clear whether Krzaklewski can count on unanimous support even within the AWS. Some AWS components, including the Conservative-Peasant Union, believe that a single right-wing candidate for the presidential elections should be selected in U.S.-type primaries. There have been speculations in the Polish media that parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski from the AWS may be considering a presidential bid. The Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, is also unlikely to back Krzaklewski.

Krzaklewski become Solidarity head in 1991, after Lech Walesa was elected president. Krzaklewski's greatest political success was to unite Poland's quarrelsome right wing in 1996 under the AWS cap and win parliamentary elections a year later. His presidential chances are seen to be considerably reduced by the poor performance of the current, Solidarity-led government and a nearly 15 percent unemployment rate in the country.

LUKASHENKA TO HAVE HIS OWN WAY WITH ELECTIONS. It seems that all attempts by the OSCE to make the regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka talk with the opposition and work out a compromise regarding this fall's parliamentary elections have proven fruitless. As a minimum, the OSCE recommended that the authorities introduce amendments to the electoral code that was adopted earlier this year; allow the opposition access to the state media; and discuss with the opposition changes to the powers and functions of the Chamber of Representatives--the legislature created as a result of the 1996 controversial referendum. Lukashenka's address to the Chamber of Representatives on 11 April indicated that the regime does not intend to comply with any of those recommendations.

Lukashenka said the parliamentary elections are this year's "main political event." According to him, the Electoral Code--which will regulate the election campaign and the ballot--was adopted "while taking into account as much as possible proposals and desires of all constructive forces of the society [and] international experience," including proposals from the OSCE.

Lukashenka rejected the suggestion of "foreign emissaries" to hold elections under a mixed, proportional-majority system. According to him, such a system will never be accepted by the Belarusian people, who want only a first-past-the-post election law.

Lukashenka openly admitted that he would like to see the current deputies of the Chamber of Representatives re-elected for another term. He pledged massive support of the state-run media for them in the campaign for which, in his opinion, they will need no money. "We will ensure that you have the full access to the people," Lukashenka told the deputies he handpicked in 1996 from among the lawmakers of the disbanded Supreme Soviet.

RUSSIA RE-ESTABLISHES CUSTOMS CONTROL. Russian and Belarusian media reported early this month that the Russian Customs Service has reintroduced customs control over third countries' commodities that are shipped from Belarus to the Russian Federation. According to the new regulation, all those shipping non-Belarusian goods from Belarus to Russia are obliged to fill out Russian customs declarations, present all necessary documents on the goods to the Russian customs authorities, and pay customs duties to Russia. The Russian side said it was forced to make such a step owing to heavy losses resulting from shipments from Belarus. Belarus's customs duties are lower than Russian ones, therefore importers to Russia, according to the Russian Customs Service, bring their commodities to Belarus, where they pay customs duties and subsequently try to re-ship them for sale in Russia.

REFERENDUM APPROVES ALL FOUR QUESTIONS. With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Central Electoral Commission announced on 17 April that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians said "yes" to all four questions in the 16 April constitutional referendum. According to the commission, 28.86 million voters (or 78.77 percent) took part in the ballot. The commission allowed early voting in the referendum beginning on 6 April, and 27.8 percent of voters took advantage of this opportunity.

According to preliminary results, as quoted by Interfax, the first question about the right of the president to dissolve the parliament if it fails to pass a budget within one month or form a majority within three months, was approved by 84.78 percent of those voting and opposed by 13.79 percent.

The second question about the abolition of lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution was okayed by 89.06 percent and opposed by 9.57 percent.

The third question about cutting the parliament from 450 to 300 deputies was approved by 89.97 percent and opposed by 8.68 percent.

The fourth question about the introduction of a bicameral parliament was supported by 81.81 percent and opposed by 16.67 percent.

The highest turnout was reported in Zakarpatska Oblast (96.77 percent), Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast (88.43 percent), Sumy Oblast (87.42 percent), and Ternopil Oblast (87.24 percent). The lowest turnout was in Sevastopol--45.54 percent. Central Electoral Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets commented that according to the law on referenda, a plebiscite is valid if the nationwide turnout is no less than 50 percent and that its validity does not depend on a regional distribution of votes. Ryabets added that his commission has not recorded any violations that could "essentially" influence the referendum results.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who earlier announced that he will not take part in the referendum, told Interfax on 17 April that the referendum results were "planned" beforehand, adding that the executive authorities exerted pressure on voters. "I am really surprised at such low results of the voting, inasmuch as it was necessary to obtain 100 percent [support] or even slightly more," Moroz commented ironically. Moroz noted that the implementation of referendum results will require "more political battles," adding that "everything will not be so easy as it appears to the initiators of the referendum."

"Not paying attention to the people is the most terrible, the worst thing we do today. We promise much during elections. But as soon as the elections are over, we forget everything. The people are apart, we are apart, while time passes very quickly. Later we need to justify ourselves, we need to explain why we do things this way and not otherwise. Proceeding from my experience, I can say that it is very difficult to fulfill election promises and help the ordinary people." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 12 April; quoted by Belarusian Television.

From Alyaksandr Lukashenka's annual address to the Belarusian legislature on 11 April; quoted by Belarusian Television:

"There is no need to teach us democracy--we are a sufficiently democratic state."

"While occupying 0.15 percent of the [global] territory and having 0.17 percent of the [global] population, our republic accounts for 11 percent of the world production of potash fertilizers, 0.60 percent of chemical fibers, 0.15 percent of steel and cement, 1.3 percent of refrigerators, 0.4 percent of television sets, 1.8 percent of wool textiles, 0.8 percent of footwear, 0.7 percent of flax fibers, 0.4 percent of meat, 1.1 percent of milk. As you see, our production capacities and volumes of industrial products exceed the domestic demand and are oriented toward foreign markets. At the same time, there are many hampering factors. First of all, the global financial crisis has decreased the general level of demand in many countries and consequently strengthened competition and complicated trade conditions on the global market as a whole."

"We need to look at the Academy of Sciences. I am afraid that many have already gotten moldy there--they are allegedly inventing some fundamental ideas for us. But as a result--we have neither foundations nor a building."

"If you want to change the ownership [relations in Belarus], I'm off that. Do change, my dear ones, but I'm off that, since I know very well who will become owners in our country. I and you will become owners because we are closer to the feeding trough, so we will grab it, as well as swindlers who have money, and criminals."

"You know that today not a single enterprise may be sold or privatized without the president's signature. I took these issues under my control not because I am a dictator or because we lack responsibility--no, I saw that for our enterprises, which are worth billions of dollars, [bidders] offer only 50 million. Here you have foreign investment."

"We should fight tooth and nail to keep what we have--our land, our environment, our climate, our basic resources. We have a wonderful country--but there are simply too many lazybones. I refer this to myself, too, and to all of us. When anything goes wrong, we look for someone else to blame. We need to work, we need to work until we are blue in the face--then we will start living better."

"I have been given a publication, a desk pad prepared excellently by Minister of Statistics Zinouski for every citizen of our country.... We created new charts based on the results of the last census, in order to make us see what we have. What was this done for? I often make myself familiar with analytical notes and reports [by foreign embassies in Belarus] and with conclusions about the development of our state. You know, for the past five years they have been predicting our downfall, inflation, even the breakup of the country. However, as it transpires [from Zinouski's note pad], we live no worse than our neighbors. Some processes [in Belarus] are going even better than there."

"In general, our people are astonishing. Whatever sociological poll you take, everybody wants a market [economy].... But 100 percent of them do not want liberalized prices. No privatization by any means. That is, they want a market economy, but have no idea what it is. Most likely, they want such a market economy when they will do nothing, when they will not work but live like [people] in the West. But they in the West sweat from the morning to the evening; some can work only until lunch, but it is the result that is needed there. If there is no result, nobody will speak to you."

"The elections will be held under a majority system.... No matter how those foreign emissaries peck at us, particularly at me, no matter how they criticize us and try to push me off my way, they will achieve nothing. What is more, we will actually hold honest elections. Not money but the people will elect. I know the situation around elections well. I know who has money. And, esteemed deputies--I am also you, because I do not see myself separately from you, I have always felt your support, I admit this publicly--I am asking you: God forbid you waver in that difficult, complicated, emotional moment of your life and hold out your hand toward some swindler [for campaign money]. You don't need any money. You don't. We will ensure that you have the full access to the people, to whom you will be able to show yourselves and speak about your policies."

"The state is able to ensure an honest and fair election campaign for you. You are head and shoulders above the others. You have a huge parliamentary experience. Our people are decent and just. If they sit down [to think it over], they will decide that there is no need to change one pack of people for another [menyat shilo na mylo]. Why do we need other [deputies] if these have already learned [their job] and can do something? So be quiet over those howls from abroad. We have done everything to secure international recognition for our elections. We have done everything."