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GEOPOLITICAL COMPASS OF ELECTION

As the opinion poll showed, the Belarusian society still greatly cherishes Pro-Russian sympathies and attitudes. Asked “What variant of Russia-Belarus relations is the best you think?”, 45.5% of respondents said “good neighborly relations of two independent states”, 39.2% – “union of independent states” and 13.6% – “integration into a single state.” Asked “If a referendum on Russia-Belarus integration takes place tomorrow in Belarus, how would you vote?”, 43.3% spoke out for integration and 33.2% – against integration (all other either found it difficult to answer or wouldn’t come to voting.) These moods don’t pose a serious threat to the Belarusian state sovereignty, but they reveal that pro-Russian sympathies in Belarus are presently higher than in any other part of this region.

At the same time, almost two million of voters are ready to vote for accession of Belarus into the European Union. In the situation of limited choice between integration with Russia and accession into the EU, ratio of Russia-oriented and EU-oriented citizens is presently 2 to 1. (See Table 1).

Table 1. Dynamics of answers to the question “If you were to choose between integration with Russia and accession to the European Union, what would you choose?”, %

Variant of answer

09’03

06’04

11’04

03’05

12’05

02’06

Integration with Russia

47.6

47.7

49.3

51.9

51.6

56.3

Accession to the European Union

36.1

37.6

33.7

31.6

24.8

27.5

What’s more, electoral preferences of the Belarusians appear closely tied with their geopolitical choice. (See Table 2).

Table 2. Relation between preferences given to a candidate and answers to the question “If you were to choose between integration with Russia and accession to the European Union, what would you choose?”, %

Variant of answer

Ready to vote for:

S. Gaidukevich (4.5)

A. Kozulin (6.4)

A. Lukashenko (58.6)

A. Milinkevich (16.5)

For integration with Russia (56.3)

3.6

3.4

75.4

8.0

For accession of Belarus into EU (27.5)

5.8

12.5

27.4

38.7

EU-oriented Belarusians – more than population in general and particularly more than Russia-oriented Belarusians – are likely to give their support to alternative candidates, even to S. Gaidukevich. It should be noted though that more than every fourth EU-adherent is ready to vote for the current head of state. In other words, pro-Russian choice much more attracts voters to A. Lukashenko than it distracts voters from A. Lukashenko. This peculiarity is especially well seen when the question on European prospects of Belarus is asked irrelatively of ‘relations with Russia’. (See Table 3).

Table 3. Relation between preferences given to a candidate and answers to the question “If a referendum on accession of Belarus into the EU takes place tomorrow, how would you vote?”*, %

Variant of answer

Ready to vote for:

S. Gaidukevich (4.5)

A. Kozulin (6.4)

A. Lukashenko (58.6)

A. Milinkevich (16.5)

For accession into the EU (27.7)

5.9

9.7

38.7

33.1

Against accession into the EU (42.7)

3.8

5.3

69.8

10.1

* Table is read across

Data in Table 3 proves the regularity of Table 2: pro-European choice strengthens adherence to alternative candidates and abates readiness to vote for A. Lukashenko. However, non-symmetry of this ratio appears paradoxical in this case – the current president takes a leading stand among supporters of accession of Belarus into Europe. Clearly, one might say he is puzzled about how Belarusians can combine pro-European choice with support of a politician who publicly promised not to lead the country after the civilized world. There’s yet another viewpoint: these people is a substantial part of A. Lukashenko’s electorate, this is why it’s not only him who influences them but also them who influence the president.

On the other hand, the situation looks mirror-like when respondents are asked about the desirable variant of Russia-Belarus relations irrelatively of ‘relations with the EU’. (See Table 4).

Table 4. Relation between preferences given to a candidate and answers to the question “What variant of Russia-Belarus relation is the best you think?”*, %

Variant of answer

Ready to vote for:

S. Gaidukevich (4.5)

A. Kozulin (6.4)

A. Lukashenko (58.6)

A. Milinkevich (16.5)

Good neighborly relations of two independent states (45.5)

3.7

7.8

52.5

22.4

Union of independent states (39.2)

5.5

5.8

64.8

9.9

Integration into a single state (13.8)

4.4

3.3

62.3

16.3

*Table is read across

Connection between the electoral choice and the choice of an integration variant appears here at one time weaker and more complicated. Adherents of just neighborly relations with this eastern neighbor are not likely to vote for A. Lukashenko while supporters of full merging are more likely to vote for him, yet the difference is comparatively not large. Also, there isn’t great gap between voting preferences of supporters of different integration variants. However, the hierarchy of preferences aired by the three alternative candidates is different: S. Gaidukevich’s is the same as A. Lukashenko’s – union-integration-neighborhood, A. Kozulin’s is classically opposition-like – integration-union-neighborhood and A. Milinkevich’s is absolutely mysterious. Apparently, trying to persuade his voters that he isn’t a Russia’s foe, this candidate was pretty successful in his strategy and even partially convinced those on whom he even didn’t count.

During the polling, we also asked respondents to express their attitude to Russia-Ukraine gas conflict which burst in the beginning of this year: 8.2% of the polled blame Russia for the conflict; 48.3% – Ukraine and 29.7% share the opinion that both sides are to the same extent guilty of the conflict.

Data in Table 5 gives one more example of relation between geopolitical orientations of Belarusians and their electoral preferences.

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “What is your attitude to support of presidential candidates on the part of the following states and unions of states?”*, %

Country

Positive

Negative

Index

Russia

69.2

29.2

+0.400

CIS

54.3

42.4

+0.119

France

43.3

52.0

–0.087

Germany

43.0

52.5

–0.095

EU

42.4

53.1

–0.107

Ukraine

40.5

55.8

–0.153

Poland

39.2

56.4

–0.172

Lithuania

35.5

60.1

–0.246

USA

28.2

68.0

–0.398

* Table is read across. Index is a difference of percentage between positive and negative answers divided by 100

As the analysis shows, the number of respondents who are positive about EU support of the candidates exceeds the number of respondents who stand up for accession of Belarus into the EU. This is especially well seen in respect to the countries of the Old Europe like France and Germany and the EU in general.

The polling data is proved by the very course of the election campaign as well as candidates’ performances and program pledges. They all take into account pro-Russian sympathies in the Belarusian society which is expressed in very different forms – from TV and radio performances in the Russian language to statements about concern in close and friendly relations with Russia. The current election campaign isn’t a competition between Russia and the West, at least candidates themselves try to avoid the situations which could tie them up with only one geopolitical standpoint. Thus, A. Milinkevich whom the authorities and rivals position as a pro-Western candidate stands against membership of Belarus in the NATO and presents accession into the EU as a long-term perspective. Even A. Lukashenko has to focus on the values like sovereignty and independence of Belarus and state that he doesn’t have support of the Kremlin. Such approximation of candidates’ standpoints in the issues of foreign policy relieved this issue from becoming a bottleneck of this election campaign. Opposing sides prefer to fight on some other issues.

The main reason, as it goes from our survey, is that EU-oriented Belarusians are a fairly important and influential part of the electorate, so that their interests and goals cannot be ignored. In addition, pro-Russian moods in Belarus don’t necessarily mean anti-European moods. They are complementary in many points, and this is why candidates need to take a balanced stand, be open both to the East and to the West so as to win the election.