Opinion / Commentary

Without real progress, revolution loses colour
By Yu Sui (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-04-03 05:17

Re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in the March 19 Belorussian presidential election, and the success of the opposition Party of Regions in becoming the largest vote-getter in Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections, are noteworthy political developments in the region.

The two election results once again demonstrate that the "colour revolution," which at one point swept into some Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members, is now fading in light of setbacks in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijian and Kazakhstan.

Together with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are both Slavic nations that co-initiated the establishment of the Soviet Union in the wake of the October Revolution in 1917. Also, they were both designers of the CIS, a relatively loose union of nations based on sovereign equality following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the past decade, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have taken along different political and economic development paths.

It has become one of the US strategic priorities to realize a change in the political system of Ukraine and Belarus towards more Western styles in order to further squeeze Russia.

There are several factors underlying Lukashenko's successful sweep for a third term as Belorussian president.

Well known for having a strong character and being resolute in action, Lukashenko has seldom succumbed to outside pressure. He always insists on a development path with Belorussian characteristics.

In the eyes of the United States and other Western countries, he is the "last dictator" in Europe.

However, after 12 years of struggling with the West, Lukashenko has laid for himself a solid foundation among the people.

It is known that the "colour revolution" started in November 2003 successively resulted in regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

However, the political windstorm has not brought the expected economic prosperity and social harmony to these nations. Instead, it has plunged them into new power struggles and economic recession.

However, different from Ukraine, Belarus has kept a nearly 10 per cent economic growth and lower-than-2 per cent unemployment rate. Thus, people's living conditions have continuously improved. In particular, a series of people-oriented measures by the government, such as free medical services and education, have benefited the masses in a tangible manner.

This contributed a lot to Lukashenko's winning of 82.6 per cent of the votes in the presidential elections, despite facing internal and external pressures.

The support from Russia served as another important factor in Lukashenko's re-election.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia lost East European and Baltic countries as its protective shield in the west.

At the same time, the "colour revolution" made another dent in its strategic front.

To help its "strategic buffer zone" remain stable, Russia has extended plenty of support to its ex-Soviet ally. Belarus is now the only country that can enjoy the preferential US$47 per thousand cubic metre gas price provided by Russia.

The European Union (EU) and the US Government are now plotting more sanction measures against Belarus.

To help its ally fend off challenges from outside, Russia fully affirmed the "legitimacy and fairness" of the presidential election in Belarus.

A supervisory delegation dispatched by CIS members also condemned the West's attempt to interfere with the country's presidential elections and asserted that the election results are indisputably legitimate.

Lukashenko also rebutted the accusations from Western nations, saying the election was for the Belorussians and had proceeded in line with the country's laws.

All these internal and external factors determine that the international struggles involving Belarus will continue to be fierce.

The result of Ukraine's parliamentary election also demonstrated that the "colour revolution" is now losing momentum.

As the first parliamentary election signalling Ukrainian transition from the presidential system to parliamentarism, the political party or party coalition which won more than half of the 450-member parliament seats forms the Cabinet, including appointing the prime minister and most of the cabinet ministers.

According to the released information, five parties and blocs have secured seats in the parliament, which set a 3 per cent barrier for entry, with the Party of Regions winning 180 seats, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc 130 seats, pro-Viktor Yushchenko Our Ukraine bloc 85 seats, the Socialist Party 34 seats and the Communist Party 21 seats.

What people care about is why the Our Ukraine bloc, led by the incumbent prime minister Yuri Yekhanurov and in favour of Yushchenko, suffered such a big defeat, and how the coalition government will be formed. Also, how the pro-Russia Party of Regions, as the largest seat holder, will act is another concern.

The election results reflect the numerous problems involving politics, economy, religion and culture between eastern and western regions.

On March 28, President Yushchenko held talks with heads of the parties about the organization of a coalition majority in the parliament.

The three Orange Revolution factions expressed willingness for alliances. But Tymoshenko insisted that she should act as the prime minister while the Our Ukraine bloc argued the candidate should come from its party.

If no agreement can be reached on the prime minister candidate, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Our Ukraine bloc will build a coalition government with the Party of Regions.

Facing strong opposition parties, it is still expected that the Orange Revolution factions will encounter many difficulties even if an alliance is forged among them.

Differing on many issues, there is a big risk of another disintegration if the different political factions cannot co-ordinate relations with each other.

Lessons can be drawn from both elections.

Every country is entitled to the right to choose a development road in accordance with its national conditions. No person or nation can monopolize the definition of democracy.

For ex-Soviet members, developing relations with Russia should conform with its national interests.

Ukraine and Belarus are closely related with Russia in geo-politics and geo-economics. Developing relations with the country on the basis of independence and self-reliance is beneficial to both.

Economic globalization also calls for their development of relations with the EU.

A revolution is the result of accumulated internal contradictions. The so-called "colour revolution" will fade if it only brings regime change, and not development of economy and living standards.

The author is a senior research fellow of the Research Centre of Contemporary World.

(China Daily 04/03/2006 page4)