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Published: Thursday, 3/23/2006

Hardball in Belarus

THE somewhat suspect victory of Alexander Lukashenko at the Belarussian polls Sunday, with more than 82 percent of the vote, makes it clear once again that there are elections - and then there are elections.

Even though there were four candidates, it would have been unwise for anyone to have put his money on anyone other than Mr. Lukashenko in Belarus' presidentials.

He was first elected president in 1994 in elections that were generally considered to have been fair. He was then re-elected in 2001 with 75 percent of the vote in elections considered to have been less fair.

In 2004, a referendum was presented to Belarussian voters removing a constitutional two-term limit. Mr. Lukashenko's views triumphed, to no one's surprise, and he has now been re-elected to a third term.

The Belarus opposition, led by candidate Alexander Milinkevich, says the elections were rigged. What is clear is that the electoral deck was stacked in the campaign. Most of the non-governmental media were shut down in advance of election day and many opposition campaign workers were arrested and jailed.

Mr. Milinkevich has tried to organize popular opposition to Mr. Lukashenko comparable to what occurred in other ex-Soviet satellite countries: Georgia - the Pink Revolution - and Ukraine - the Orange Revolution.

Belarus' is blue, but the turnout at a post-results rally in a snowstorm in Minsk, the capital, Sunday night, didn't look too encouraging in terms of prospects for overturning the election results. Mr. Lukashenko labels the opposition "terrorists" and has threatened to "twist off their heads as if they are ducklings."

Belarus, population 10.3 million and landlocked, about the size of Kansas, thus looks destined to have heavy-handed, pro-Russian government for the next five years at least. That means no European Union membership and continued frosty relations with western Europe and America.

Mr. Lukashenko calls President George W. Bush "terrorist No. 1 on our planet" and accuses him of oil and war profiteering.

These elections were no tribute to democracy and do not help the people of Belarus.

Too bad for them.

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