For a moment during the recent presidential campaign in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, I felt like I was covering a school board election in small-town America. The scene was an auditorium at a Minsk ballet academy, where young boys in unitards lingered in the hallway. On stage stood Victor Tereshenko, one of nine men running to challenge the incumbent president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. About 20 people sat in the room, wearing expressions ranging from overly enthusiastic to moderate disinterest. There was no media to cover the event, just someone recording the talk with a digital camera.
Welcome to democracy in Belarus, which President Lukashenka has ruled since 1994. Over the weekend, he won a sham election that will grant him five more years in office, garnering 80% of the vote according to official figures. Opposition supporters who gathered in the city’s central square on Sunday evening to protest the fraudulent results were met with a vicious response from security forces. Yet while Lukashenka’s uncompromising brutality was apparent on Sunday, he had worked hard in the weeks prior to put on a show of electoral democracy for Western observers.
(read the full article in "Prospect