Eyewitness

October 20, 2000

While Serbia's elections made world headlines, other election campaigns have been in progress throughout the former Soviet bloc, from Poland to Azerbaijan in the south and Kyrgyzstan on the Chinese border.

In Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski was re-elected in the first round of voting.

Stanislaw Gomulka, reader in economics at the London School of Economics, sees the elections as a convergence towards western political traditions. "The electorate supports reforms but does not want to experiment with over-radical ideas. It wants to preserve state welfare and pensions systems. In effect, it is moving towards West European-type social democracy."

By contrast, parliamentary elections in Belarus last Sunday have been condemned by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe as "neither fair, free, nor transparent". The US State Department condemned abuses committed by the Lukashenka regime during the elections. Unfortunately for pro-democracy minded Belarusians, others ignore their aspirations. The British Council is reportedly considering closing its office in Belarus - the major English-language teaching resource in a country for whose young people English is seen as the key to democracy.

This is considered to be misguided by Alan Flowers of Kingston University, a physicist who has worked with Belarusian colleagues in the aftermath of Chernobyl: "The British government must reconsider any actions that could be interpreted as desertion of our friends."

While no elections are due at the federal level in Russia, Edwin Bacon, lecturer in Russian politics at Birmingham University's centre for Russian and east European studies, said a by-election in St Petersburg, and elections for governorships of provinces and autonomous republics throughout the Federation over the next few months, will be a test for Vladimir Putin, who has tried to curb the influence of the governors at the federal level.

"The thing to watch is whether the Putin regime is consolidated or whether a significant number of seats fall to opposition candidates," he said.

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