President Alexander Lukashenko won the presidency in what was considered a relatively free election in 1994, but has ruled since then with an increasingly authoritarian hand. The United States has been a frequent critic of his rule including the prosecution of opposition figures, and has sharply reduced aid to Belarus over the years.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic, has maintained close ties with Moscow and enjoys Russian aid including cut-rate energy supplies like those the Russian government is ending for Ukraine. Belarus cannot rely solely on Moscow and needs trade and economic ties with the rest of Europe, which could be at risk if the political situation becomes more severe.
The US continues to promote political upheaval in Belarus, like that seen in Georgia and Ukraine, in response to a rigged election. There were some demonstrations in Minsk following a deeply flawed and internationally-criticized parliamentary election in October 2004 but they didn't lead to anything more profound.
Color revolutions or Flower revolutions are the names given to a series of movements in post-communist societies in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The participant use mostly nonviolent protest against governments seen as entrenched and authoritarian, and to advocate democracy, liberalism, and national independence. They usually also adopt a specific color or flower as their symbol. Otpor launched its "Gotov je" (He's finished) campaign that galvanized Serbian discontent with Milosevic and resulted in his defeat. Members of Otpor have inspired and trained members of related student movements including Kmara in Georgia, Pora in Ukraine, Zubr in Belarus and MJAFT! in Albania. One suggestion is that the new revolution in Belarus will be the color of potatoes, the national vegetable of Belarus, picking up on the obvious linguistic irony of Lukashenko's last name ("luk"=onion).
The Belarus Democracy Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in October 2004 authorized assistance to non-governmental groups there, while barring official aid and investment except for humanitarian purposes. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has listed Belarus as one of six outposts of tyranny, and in April 2005 she met with opposition figures from the country on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Lithuania.
The prospects for a free and fair presidential election in Belarus in March 2006 were slim. US expectations for the 19 March 2006 election in which Mr. Lukashenko is seeking another six-year term in office were never very high. Prospects that the opposition will have a fair chance to challenge the country's ruler since 1994 remain very dismal. The Lukashenko government has denied political opponents access to the official media, and is maintaining what he called a sense of insecurity and fear, aided by a law recently passed by the parliament making it a crime to discredit the state. Even though opposition forces have managed to organize behind a main challenger to the president, physicist and human rights activist Alexander Milinkevich, they have been unable to get their message circulated broadly. Authorities refused the early entry of international observers who could monitor the fairness of the campaigning leading up to the vote.
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