Monday, June 20, 2011

With Economy In Free Fall, Belarusian President Running Out Of Options

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seems to be running out of options. Rapidly.

Minsk applied to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout of up to $8 billion, that on top of the $3.5 billion the fund provided following the 2008 global financial crisis and the $3.5 billion package that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community pledged last month. China has also provided about $1 billion in trade credits.

The latest request to the IMF comes as the country scrapes the bottom of its hard-currency reserves, experiences growing double-digit inflation, and watches the national currency lose value by the day.

The meltdown was sparked largely by increases in the rates Minsk must pay for Russian energy and a lavish, populist campaign of public spending that Lukashenka rolled out in the run-up to the December 2010 presidential election.

The IMF might offer Belarus a lifeline, but the conditions will be harsh, says Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Carnegie Endowment.

"A bailout should be possible, as long as the necessary nonpolitical conditions can be imposed. But I think the IMF would take in some ways a similar approach as the Eurasian Economic Community in demanding that there is proof of action before the money gets released," Rojansky says. "It would be foolish for them to do otherwise, to give Lukashenka even the first tranche, which he would use to prolong his short-term survival and then probably maneuver for some other alternative without undertaking the necessary reforms."

Bitter Medicine

An IMF team wound up a visit to Minsk on June 13, warning Lukashenka that "structural reforms" must be implemented if Belarus hoped to receive further assistance. Such reforms would break his vise grip on the Belarusian economy. The Bloomberg news agency ran a stark headline on June 14 that encapsulates the situation: "Lukashenka Must Choose Between Belarus Control or IMF Aid."

The head of the IMF team in Belarus, Chris Jarvis, told reporters in Minsk that any new assistance would be contingent upon "a strong program" that addressed the deficiencies of Belarus's state-dominated economy. "We would also have to be sure that all actors -- the president, government, and national bank -- are committed to that program," Jarvis said.

And that has long been a problem in a country that has been autocratically ruled by Lukashenka for 17 years. Yury Shautsou, director of the Minsk-based Center for Problems of European Integration, says the economists in the National Bank have trouble implementing their policy suggestions.

Shautsou says that while there are "some very good people" in the National Bank and Finance Ministry, he has "spoken to many of them and they say, 'We prepare good documents but then the presidential administration issues instructions or orders that say the exact opposite thing.' This raises the question of who is making decisions about the Belarusian economy."

A Threat To Lukashenka?

The economic situation in Belarus -- which is a relatively small and isolated economy -- is increasingly presenting political challenges to the Lukashenka government. In addition to a sweeping crackdown since December against the political opposition that has provoked the ire of the West, Belarusian security forces have put down numerous protests sparked by the crisis.

On June 12, police in Hrodna forcibly dispersed a demonstration of drivers who were protesting draconian new rules imposing customs fees on cars leaving the country with more than 5 liters of gasoline more than once every five days. On June 14, Lukashenka vowed to "strike hard" against any further public protests in the country.

Economist Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an interview posted on the institute's website that the Belarusian meltdown presents more of a political problem than an economic one for the country's neighbors.

Aslund said that while Belarus was "not sufficiently important" to threaten a regional economic contagion and the country that most concerned is Russia, which "can easily take it. So, if there would be a contagion, it would be political. It would be like the Arab Spring, and it could go to Ukraine and to Russia, because Lukashenka can not take this politically."

Aslund sees the crisis as similar to the collapse of the state-centered economic model of the Soviet Union.

Analyst Rojansky agrees that the economic meltdown is likely the beginning of the end of Lukashenka's rule in Belarus, although he avoids saying the president's departure is imminent. Nonetheless he urges the West and Russia to begin planning for a post-Lukashenka Belarus.

He says that although Russia's oligarchs are pushing hard for the opportunity to buy up Belarusian state assets at fire-sale prices, Moscow's long-term interests in the country are similar to the West's.

Rojansky says Russia and the West "can agree that we don't want a humanitarian crisis. We can agree that if there is real political instability in Belarus -- even if we don't agree on what the outcome should be -- that we don't want violence and we don't want to be reacting to one another in the kind of hostile way that you saw around the Georgia crisis in 2008."

By Robert Coalson. Published on 14 June 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Viktor Yanukovych and Serzh Sargsyan among leading figures to address PACE summer session

Strasbourg, 10.06.2011 – Addresses by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (Tuesday 21) and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan (Wednesday 22) will be among highlights of the summer plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 20-24 June 2011.

Support for fledgling Arab democracies will be the main theme on Tuesday, when the parliamentarians will decide on the Moroccan Parliament’s request for “Partner for Democracy” status with the Assembly, followed by statements from the Speakers of both chambers of the Parliament, Abdelwahed Radi and Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah. Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Mouldi Kefi will also take part in a debate on the situation in Tunisia.

This will be followed by a joint debate on sharing responsibilities for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, and on the interception and rescue at sea of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants. A number of refugees and asylum seekers who have come together to form a “living library” will be present during session week to share their personal experiences.

Wednesday sees a debate on follow-up to the report of the Council of Europe Group of Eminent Persons “Living together in 21st century Europe”. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov will also address the Assembly on the same day.

On Thursday, the Assembly holds its biennial debate on the state of human rights in Europe. German Federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve will take part in a joint debate on national parliaments as guarantors of human rights in Europe, and on the role of parliaments in the consolidation and development of social rights in Europe. This will be followed by the ceremony to award the Parliamentary Assembly’s Human Rights Prize for 2011 to the Russian NGO “Committee against Torture”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko will present the Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly on Monday afternoon, and answer questions from parliamentarians. On Wednesday, there will also be a debate on reform of the Assembly.

Source:PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 10 June 2010

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ukraine - the case of YuliaTymoshenko

The Group of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament announced that it will not support the proposed, EPP initiated joint resolution on the case of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko later today.

Its Vice-President Hannes Swoboda stressed that the Ukrainian authorities must of course avoid any perception that judicial measures are used selectively, and confirmed that also the S&D Group insists that a maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials must be guaranteed; in particular where it concerns leading politicians who are in opposition to the government.

"The European integration process is of the greatest importance for the pursuance of economic, social and political reforms in Ukraine", said Mr. Swoboda, "and respect for the rule of law, incorporating fair, impartial and independent legal processes is for our Group a prerequisite for the further development of relations between the EU and Ukraine".

"But this also means that all political forces inside and outside Ukraine must refrain from any interference in the work of the country's judicial authorities", said Mr. Swoboda.

Mr. Swoboda welcomed the approval of the law against corruption by the Verkhovna Rada and stressed that all political forces in Ukraine should cooperate with the authorities to take care of its full and impartial implementation as from 1 July 2011.

"The European Union should assist the government of Ukraine in its further efforts to bring about the necessary reform of the judiciary system in the country. The resolution which is now presented to the European Parliament does, however, not reflect this willingness to make a joint effort to bring about the necessary reforms in Ukraine" said Mr. Swoboda.

The S&D Group in the European Parliament will continue to keep a critical eye on the internal developments in the country, but also wants to express its clear support for the Ukrainian decision to go the European way.

Source: S&D. Published on 9 June 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Moldova’s local elections largely met international standards, but remaining legal and regulatory issues need to be considered, observers say

Moldova’s local elections largely met OSCE and Council of Europe election-related commitments, in conditions conducive to a competitive campaign and offering voters a genuine choice, international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities concluded in a statement issued today.

However, the observers noted that remaining legal, administrative and regulatory issues need to be further considered in order to ensure continued forward progress.

“Electoral participants noted much more equitable opportunities to reach voters as part of a competitive campaign, but improvements in the regulation of political financing would further benefit the electoral process,” said Gerald Mitchell, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission. “A more concerted effort to introduce a centralized electronic voter register would also further improve the process.”

“Voters in this election clearly benefitted from a wide range of options,” said Britt Marie L√∂vgren, the Head of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities delegation. “But the competencies of local authorities in election administration need to be clearer. If they are in charge of important aspects of election administration, this must be clear in law and they must be given the necessary resources.”

The observers found that the candidate registration process was inclusive and provided voters with a genuine choice. Media covered the election campaign through a variety of formats, including editorial broadcasts, debates and paid advertising, offering voters a broad range of information about contestants and their programmes.

The legal framework provides a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections, and the election administration performed in a transparent and professional manner overall, perceived as impartial by the majority of stakeholders.

However, the postponement of the introduction of a centralized electronic voter register meant that voter lists were again prepared by local authorities. As in previous elections, this resulted in concerns over their accuracy. The ongoing problem of unclear residency provisions to designate proper place of voting underscored these difficulties.

Also, mechanisms for the oversight of political financing are insufficiently developed and lacking in precision and adequate enforcement. A lack of clarity over the division of competencies among different levels and bodies of government also raised concerns over the provision of clear and sufficient funding to allow them to carry out their respective tasks.

Election day procedures, including voting and counting, proceeded calmly and were conducted in a generally orderly and transparent manner.

Source: OSCE. Published on 6 June 2011 in Chisinqu.