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WILL THE BELARUSIANS KNOW TRUTH ABOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?

It is very little time left before the presidential election in Belarus but many Belarusians feel uncertain and doubtful as it approaches. Less than 55% believe that the election will be ‘free and fair’ and every third sticks to the opposite viewpoint. Lack of information about candidates is one of the reasons. Thus, asked the question “Do you have enough information about presidential candidates to make choice with confidence?”, 55.3% of respondents answered in the negative and only 43.3% – in the positive. Most of them directly point out to the reasons of this: in the opinion of 55.3% of respondents, candidates “don’t have the same access to the state-run mass media as A. Lukashenko” (only 34% chose the alternative “have the same access”) while these are mass media from which the Belarusians still get major part of information about candidates.

It is even more important to get true information after and not before the election – how the votes got distributed, who won and what the count is. Such questions themselves would cause bewilderment in a modern democratic country: this is the function of the Central Election Commission – to announce voting results immediately after the count of votes. However, this doesn’t bewilder many of the Belarusians: the number of those who trust the Central Election Commission (41.9%) is presently even lower that the number of those who don’t trust it (42.8%). Why? This is because only 42.2% agree that “The Central Election Commission of Belarus is an unbiased body following the law only” and 43.9% think that “The Central Election Commission of Belarus is the body following president’s regulations first of all.” A great part of president’s supporters as well thinks that the Central Election Commission should be independent and unbiased. This is to the question “Exit polls are presently conducted in many countries during elections or referenda so as to compare their results with the official ones. Such polls were as well conducted in Belarus during the referendum of October 17, 2004. Would you like to have them during the presidential election of March 19 and have their results publicized?”, 53% of respondents answered in the positive, 17.3% – in the negative, 23.5% said “this doesn’t make difference” for them and 6.2% found it difficult to answer. It might seem there’s nothing easier: independent sociological groups highly reputed in their professional field both in the country and abroad conduct an exit poll and publicize its results so that voters make sure if the official data is the same as or different from unofficial data. As a rule, in democratic countries these results are the same or slightly different. Unfortunately, in the past few year results from both these sources differ sharply in Belarus. Thus, according to the Central Election Commission, almost 79% voted for Constitution amendment at the referendum of 2004 and according to the data of Gallup’s Institute which conducted exit polls – less than 49%. Already in December of 2005 when referendum stir has already gone, only 40.8% of respondents said that the data of the Central Election Commission was true, about 30% were convinced in the opposite and another 30% found it difficult to answer.

One might ask, is it really so important whether voters trust the Central Election Commission more or less? This is pluralism! It doesn’t influence much the development of the society and the state. To give an answer, let’s compare in what and how different are these two approximately equal groups of the Belarusian electorate. (See Table 1).

Table 1. Sociological portraits of the voters depending on their assessment of activity of the Central Election Commission (CEC), %

Sociological characteristics

CEC is led by the law only

CEC is led by president’s regulations

In general, the situation in Belarus goes:
In the right direction

81.8

36.2

In the wrong direction

10.6

50.3

What is more important for you – preservation or changing of the current situation in the country?
Preservation of the current situation is more important

75.9

29.8

Changing of the current situation is more important

18.3

61.1

Can the standard of living in Belarus increase taking into account the policy carried by the current authorities?
Can

81.0

34.0

Cannot

12.4

53.7

Do you trust the president?
Trust

85.5

35.2

Don’t trust

10.4

55.6

How did you vote at the referendum of 2004?
For Constitution amendment

76.5

26.2

Against Constitution amendment

7.5

37.6

Didn’t come to voting

10.6

29.2

Refused to answer

3.8

5.0

Have you suffered an offence from any authorities for the past three years?
No

80.9

56.0

Yes

15.1

40.2

Will you come to vote at the presidential election on March 19?
Certainly/most likely come

91.7

68.2

Most likely/certainly will not come

7.6

26.7

Will the election of March 19 be free and fair?
Yes

83.5

27.1

No

9.5

59.1

For whom will you vote at the presidential election?
S. Gaidukevich

3.4

6.7

А. Kozulin

2.2

11.3

А. Lukashenko

82.7

32.8

А. Milinkevich

5.2

31.9

Do you have enough information about the presidential candidates to make choice with confidence?
Yes

61.1

30.2

No

37.0

69.2

It appears that these two groups are almost mirror-like. Those voters who think that “The Central Election Commission of Belarus is an unbiased body following the law only” are quite positive about life in Belarus and will as well support the current course. Those who think that “The Central Election Commission of Belarus is the body following president’s regulations first of all” are very critic about life in Belarus and are ready to support an alternative course. Since we don’t talk about marginal groups of electorate but about the majority of voters (42.4% + 43.9% = 86.3%), it is impossible that a country bears such a split within the society any longer. There’s only one way out – telling truth to the people on all issues including voting results. The future of this country will to a great extent depend on whether people get to know true results of the presidential election of March 19.