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Belarus election: authorities show they can make big mistakes - expert

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Artyom Shraibman/ Maryia Vaitovich, Euroradio

"I expected that this year the authorities would not wait to apply repression until Election Day, but would try to intimidate potential protesters earlier - in July or early August. But I did not expect it to start so early," political analyst Artyom Shraibman says. He was at the Euroradio studio to discuss with host Zmitser Lukashuk how the detention of Syarhei Tsikhanouski and his associates could affect the protest moods. The expert also shared his take on: whether Lukashenka will give the order to shoot; what alternative presidential candidates are preparing for; and what the prospects for boycotting the elections are.

Lukashenka's reaction to Tsikhanouski

Tsikhanouski is a challenge of a completely new order for the system and this reaction [Tsikhanouski's detention] is...nervous if you like. It is primal. They saw a threat, they saw a man who openly calls for a revolution. He doesn't play any rhetorical games, he openly says: "Yes, we are going to overthrow the regime. Yes, the military and the police, come to our side. Yes, we will hold big protest actions - both in cities and everywhere." It was clear what the man was going to do, what his dynamics were. They decided to shoot him down on takeoff, now.

IT execs criticize Tsepkalo

The IT folks at the Minsk-based Hight-Tech Park (HTP) have reasons not to like Valery Tsepkalo. He has drawn a lot of criticism. It is about him somehow badly administering the HTP when he was in charge. Few companies were allowed in, no product companies were developed. I hear a lot of negative opinions about Tsepkalo from the top IT environment. Not from "ordinary" IT specialists, but from the management.

Failing even in repression

In recent years, the actions of the authorities have become less rational in terms of self-expression. They do many things that could be done more skillfully. Some propaganda programs on TV, senators, whom nobody listens to, suddenly start attacking Tsikhanouski on Facebook. In return, they get thousands of comments with hate... 

Even though the authorities are sticking to their positions with tooth and nail, the quality of their work has become much worse. They are even failing in repression now.

All the fallen regimes made the same mistakes. Is this the fall of our regime? We do not know. I don't rule out any scenarios for this summer anymore. People in power show that they can make stupid mistakes.   

People are tired

I see a zone of uncertainty in the administration's behavior. I am not saying that it will betray Lukashenka or that I see a split, but compared to last year there is no longer a zero chance.

We have absolute fatigue in all strata of society. The elites are unhappy about the policy of the authorities during the pandemic. Technically, we have the candidates favored by the elites, first of all Babaryka. He is capable of showing a very impressive result already in the first round. The Belarusian authorities have not been in such a situation yet and nobody knows how they will behave. 

 

Babaryka works to get the authorities to show their essence every day

Instead of waiting for Election Day on August 9th, Babaryka wants the authorities to show their essence every day. Otherwise it would look like the whole campaign had been honest, and suddenly on August 9th, there was a single case of deception - and everyone was confused. What is Babaryka doing? Today he took the documents to the Central Election Commission (CEC) to complain about Lukashenka having insulted him. he also complained about administrative pressure. The CEC will have to reply. Babaryka works to make the opacity of the process evident from the start, while the authorities have demonstrated that they are not particularly interested in the democratic process.

Shoot to kill scenario unlikely

Lukashenko has never been in a situation where he had to make emergency decisions to disperse people. As for whether he's ready to give the order to shoot - I do not think it will be necessary. I am not sure that the degree of confrontation in the Belarusian society has reached the point where the parties are ready to shoot at each other to kill. Even the most brutal Belarusian dispersals did not reach the level of, say, Kyrgyzstan, where dozens of people were killed, that of Maidan, today's clashes in the US, recent clashes in France...

I doubt that we will reach the stage when the parties will fight to kill. It seems to me that today there are enough law enforcers in Belarus to deal with any protest that Lukashenka's opponents may gather before August. I do not foresee apocalyptic scenarios.

Boycott can't change government

Even people who advocate a boycott say that this is not a method of changing power. It's part of a more general strategy that, in their understanding, can lead to something else. That is, we boycott elections, we build activity outside elections, somehow force the authorities to talk, and so on. I consider it a utopian tactic, especially in Belarus. Especially now, when there are interesting candidates and, indeed, the majority will go to vote for them. I can't recall when the opposition achieved victory by a boycott.    

The West reacts seriously only after the criminal sentence

The detention of dozens of people simultaneously triggers a statement from the West. Just like detentions of journalists, their prison sentences do. I think that if Tsikhanouski is charged and not released, it will also cause a statement from the West, but... no more than a statement.

I think the West only reacts seriously after a criminal sentence. Recently, human rights activists found Filip Shaurou political prisoner, but there was no reaction from the West. The verdict wasn't related to imprisonment. It's the same here: for the West, the red line is political prisoners. People who go to prison after the criminal sentence are political opponents of the authorities.  

Forecast

I do not rule anything out, but my basic forecast is that the authorities will be able to save themselves. But I'm not as confident about it as I was six months ago.