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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
How the media favours Lukashenko
family watch lukashenko on tv
Lukashenko's image dominates the airwaves
By the BBC's Irina Grinuk in Kiev

Described in the West as Europe's only remaining dictator, Alexander Lukashenko has based his election campaign on the tried and trusted principles of Soviet propaganda - with some personal populist touches thrown in.

With his trademark moustache and athletic built, the 47-year-old president projects the image of a caring father.

I am an ordinary man

Alexander Lukashenko

He is seen daily on TV, visiting factories, schools and hospitals, talking to supporters on the streets and engaging in his favourite pastimes, hockey and roller-skating.

In his frequent and protracted speeches to "his dearest" - the manner in which he addresses his people - Mr Lukashenko presents himself as "an ordinary patriot who hates traitors.

"I am an ordinary man like you," he told an audience of some 3,000 hand-picked supporters in a keynote election speech this week.

Lukashenko - Europe's last dictator?
"I have never betrayed anyone and I hate traitors. I have never robbed anyone and I hate thieves and embezzlers."

The majority of voters across the country see little of the main opposition candidate, Vladimir Goncharik, and his supporters.

Scarce airtime given to the opposition's campaign pales into oblivion compared to the omnipresent images of the father-president.

Media bias

"Only 24% of the coverage is devoted to Lukashenko's chief rival, Vladimir Goncharik," said the head of the election monitoring mission for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Hrair Balian.

"Ninety-five per cent of Goncharik coverage is negative while 95% of Lukashenko coverage is positive."

The country's only television channel tirelessly reports Mr Lukashenko's every move, often in the company of grateful electors.

The opposition "too bored to do real work", according to a TV presenter
The president's website, publicised in the TV's flagship news programme, shows pictures of Mr Lukashenko with smiling children.

A local election official in charge of the vote count in western Hrodna region told viewers on local TV: "We have no other candidate to be trusted with the fate of the country for the next five years."

The government's main paper, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, published Mr Lukashenko's election speech twice, doubling the normal circulation and sending a copy to every Minsk resident.

Government papers published a heavily edited version of Mr Goncharik's manifesto, while the opposition press has seen its print runs confiscated and articles censored.

The opposition are ... much better at hot-headed fantasy bordering on provocation

TV presenter
The state-owned TV carries a daily critical review of the opposition press and has broadcast a derisive documentary on the opposition's campaign.

"The opposition are too bored to get down to real work. They are much better at hot-headed fantasy bordering on provocation," the channel's presenter said.

The popular and widely available Russian media have been ambivalent about the campaign.

While TV channels ran a number of provocative interviews with Mr Lukashenko's opponents in the early days of the campaign, recent broadcasts appear to accept his imminent victory.

Reporting on the opening of a new metro station in Minsk, the Russian TV6 channel said: "It is not clear what is celebrated more, the opening of the station or Lukashenko's appearance".

'Frightening' uncertainty

The opposition's main challenge will be to overcome the inertia of the public who largely remain unperturbed by political scandal, such as the allegations that death squads were used to eliminate unwanted government opponents.

Even Western opinion surveys put the incumbent ahead of his main rival. While some people may be tired of and embarrassed about Mr Lukashenko, most do not know the opposition figures enough to trust them.

A local civil servant told the Belorusskaya Gazeta newspaper: "The uncertainty frightens us to such an extent that sometimes you want to leave everything as it is and vote for Lukashenko."

"At least we are used to his behaviour and know what to expect."

See also:

08 Sep 01 | Europe
Lukashenko poised for new term
08 Sep 01 | Media reports
Belarus gays parade in election fever
08 Sep 01 | Europe
OSCE denies Belarus claims
19 Jun 98 | Europe
Alexander Lukashenko: a profile
01 Aug 01 | Europe
Belarus leader accuses OSCE
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Belarus
22 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Belarus stuck in a timewarp
07 Jun 01 | Europe
The disappeared of Belarus
13 Jan 01 | Europe
Belarus courts US foes
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