So powerless faced with post-election deadlocks

Torsdag, 3. Februari 2011     1 kommentti(a)
Anaïs Marin
forskare - forskningsprogrammet EU:s östra grannskap och Ryssland
A ballot box in Brest, Belarus, 19 December 2010. Picture: Anaïs Marin A ballot box in Brest, Belarus, 19 December 2010. Picture: Anaïs Marin
Taken off guard by ongoing revolutions in the Arab world, the international community appears offside as well in situations where a silenced majority calls it to interfere and oust a power usurper. 

Even if all eyes are riveted on Cairo, one should not forget the persistent deadlock in two countries where, despite high expectations for a democratic vote, rigged elections held in late 2010 allowed authoritarian leaders to keep on confiscating power and thumbing their nose at the outside world. 

Ivory Coast and Belarus are worlds apart, but they have one thing in common: both are headed by a strongman with an impressive capacity of nuisance, judging on how powerless the international community remains in the face of the fraudulent re-election of Laurent Gbagbo and Alexander Lukashenko. 

Both cases illustrate that in today's world the sovereignty principle prevails over international recognition, and that imposing democracy by force – as requested by Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised president of Ivory Coast – is not legitimate. However, the unprecedented mobilisation against Gbagbo’s power usurpation gives food for thought on how to end Lukashenko’s. 

Although the right to interfere is legitimate only (if ever) in humanitarian crisis situations, in Africa the international community recently deployed additional means to impose an ethic of responsibility to defend the will of people, as it would be expressed through elections - should they be democratic. 

Surely, there are more differences than similarities between the two countries.

Over the past 12 years Ivory Coast has lived through a tragic civil war, a deep socio-economic crisis and a tensed political transition under the contested guidance of an UN-mandated peacekeeping mission. Under the iron hand of Lukashenko, Belarus on the contrary appears as a paragon of peace, stability and even prosperity in the post-Soviet area. Building on this, the Belarusian dictator claims his fourth electoral victory is genuine and his score (officially, 80%) unquestionable. 

For the record, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara were neck and neck in the second round on 28 November. True, the Ivorian society is incomparably more divided and polarised than the Belarusian one: in broad outline, the Christian South massively voted for Gbagbo, whereas Ouattara gathered most of his votes in the Muslim North. Wherever they are from, most Belarusians cast their ballot for Lukashenko because state propaganda does not give alternative candidates any visibility. 

Lastly, be it a result of traditions or colonial heritage, the “problem-solving” methods autocratic leaders rely upon in post-Soviet Europe and in Africa also differ radically. Lukashenko holds the grip tight on “his” people through neo-totalitarian mind control and harsh repression (the evening of 19 December thus deserves its label of “bloody Sunday”). However the death toll of his 16 years in office is limited (a dozen “disappeared” or “suicided” challengers and journalists) compared to that of the Ivorian civil war.

The fear of a new bloodbath in Africa thus explains the strikingly different level of attention that the international community gave both post-electoral crises: it mobilised at all possible levels – bilateral, regional (the African Union, the ECOWAS) and multilateral (the UN, the World Bank) - as soon as it appeared that Gbagbo was manoeuvring to confiscate power. Having unequivocally recognised Ouattara as the legitimate president, the international community proved not only that it existed as a moral authority (in calling Gbagbo to step down), but also that it could act (in adopting strong sanctions against Gbagbo's rogue government). However unsuccessful so far to oust him, these sanctions had the advantage of encompassing several types of complementary measures: diplomatic mediation, regional coalition-building, symbolic pressure, concrete (economic) sanctions and even coercion (or at least the threat to use force) – without dialogue ever being disrupted though. 

This is exactly what has been missing in the international response to the power confiscation committed by Lukashenko since 1996. The EU and the US just reinstated political sanctions: a freeze of assets and a visa ban against Lukashenko and 157 other people involved in vote rigging and in the post-19 December crackdown against the opposition. However, the scope of such sanctions is obviously too narrow. It would take much more (a targeted economic blockade for example) to push the Belarusian leader to abandon his old habits. More importantly, the post-colonial “patron” of Belarus would have to join the coalition for the latter to pretend it is legitimately talking in the name of the international community: without Russia’s support, no UN resolution or sanction against the Belarusian leadership could ever succeed to “suffocate” the regime – or it would do so at the expense of the civilian population.

Although the Ivorian post-electoral crisis seems at a standstill, in this affair the international community relied upon at least three tools that the EU and the US - to start with – could put to good use in their Belarusian foreign policy. 
The first one is verbal disqualification, whereby one denies the usurper the very title of “president” and any of the formal honours subsequently attached to the function. Psychologically, Lukashenko would deeply suffer from being treated as a renegade, as Gbagbo currently is. 

The second tool is parallel diplomacy, whereby the international community formally “habilitates” the shadow government and representatives abroad of the recognised president (Ouattara in the Ivorian case) to speak and act in the name of the country. In the absence of a single and consensual opposition leader, this tool can seem inefficient for Belarus. It could however be developed to empower dissident and exiled figures of the Belarusian opposition in specific settings where there is no communication with the authorities anyway. The Belarusian opposition actually appointed a couple of “shadow ambassadors” in exile in Vilnius lately.

Thirdly, the role played by Ivory Coast’s neighbours within ECOWAS demonstrated that a regionalisation of the crisis-solving efforts (a première in Africa) could bring positive results. In Europe, the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme (EaP) readily offers a regional platform for dialogue with Belarusian democratic forces. Whereas the participation of official Minsk in the EaP is now under question, cooperation remains possible with representatives of the silenced opposition through EaP bodies such as the parliamentary assembly (Euronest) and the Civil Society Forum (CSF). 

However embryonic, these institutions could provide European democracies – if not the whole international community, whatever meaning this rhetorical formula entails – a chance to foster their interests as much as those of the oppressed Belarusian civil society.

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Keskustelu (1 kommenttia)

27.2.2011, Konstantin K

The problem with Belarus is that there is no strong opposition, no big leader other than Lukashenko.

And even if the vote was not rigged, Lukashenko would inevitably win, though not with large figures, but some smaller ones, or even in run-off. His electorate views him as an opposite to rulers of Russia and Ukraine, who privatised everything for the good of their close friends. And he is quite good in fighting corruption as compared to Ukraine and Russia again. In Ukraine and Russia there is no rule of law in many spheres of life whatsoever, only briber get everything, inlcuding courts rulings.

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