URGING GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS TO ENSURE DEMOCRATIC, TRANSPARENT, AND FAIR ELECTION PROCESS -- (Extensions of Remarks - July 22, 2004)
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I am a cosponsor of H. Con. Res. 652 which urges the Government of Belarus to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for its parliamentary elections in October 2004. As the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act (H.R. 854), which has also been reported out by the International Relations Committee, it is important that the House call specific attention to these upcoming fall elections. Mr. BEREUTER, in his capacity as Chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe, has lend his support of the Belarus Democracy Act as well.
Belarus' poor track record with recent elections-which were judged as not meeting international democratic standards by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe-and more broadly with the situation with respect to human rights and democracy in Belarus, underscore the need for this resolution. Belarus, under autocratic ruler Alexander Lukashenka, has the worst human rights record in Europe today. Repressions against members of the democratic opposition, non-governmental organizations, the independent media and independent trade unions have become commonplace. Independent thought and action are anathema to Lukashenka, who over the last 10 years has consolidated his power to an alarming extent.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Belarusian authorities will take this resolution seriously, as it provides them with a blueprint on what they need to do to have their elections conform with OSCE standards. Unfortunately, four benchmarks for free and fair elections established by the OSCE 4 years ago still not been met. Thus far, the pre-election environment has not been encouraging. Last month, three opposition parliamentarians staged an 18-day hunger strike demanding changes in the Election Code, which still includes several undemocratic provisions. The reform bill was overwhelmingly defeated by the Lukashenka-controlled parliament.
Belarusians still have no opportunity to receive independent viewpoints through broadcast media. Opposition access to the state media is virtually non-existent; rather the political opposition is often vilified. Just yesterday Lukashenka, talking about his hopes for a pro-government majority in the October elections, said: "I strongly hope that the people will make the right choice," and added that "the people will take a close look at traitors, black sheep ..... wolves in sheep's clothing, and we will help them if they don't." This is not a good harbinger for the elections-and the election campaign has not even begun!
Mr. Speaker, it is vital that we convey to the Belarusian authorities our call for a free, fair, open and transparent parliamentary election process consistent with Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. The long-suffering Belarusian people deserve no less.