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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 12:28 GMT
Analysis: Polls split ex-USSR
By Steven Eke
BBC Russia analyst

Pro-Yushchenko opposition rally in Kiev
Ukraine's opposition wants closer ties with the West
Almost 14 years have passed since the Soviet Union ceased to exist - and elections in the region this year revealed continuing obstacles on the road to democracy and free markets.

In many countries of the region, there is still a very long way to go.

This year, presidential elections were held in Russia and Ukraine, and a parliamentary election was held in Belarus. These are three countries with largely the same, Soviet legacy.

Yet the three elections were very different.

Over recent weeks, international attention has been focused very closely on Ukraine.

Fraudulent presidential elections in November led to demonstrations in Kiev and other big cities, in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians took part.

Conspiracy theories abounded. In particular, allies of the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, insisted that the West was behind the demonstrations. In response, Viktor Yushchenko's allies pointed to the generous Russian financial contribution to Mr Yanukovych's campaign.

But the "Orange Revolution", as it became known, suggests that, in Ukraine at least, there is something of a civil society.

Russian stagnation

Russian President Vladimir Putin
In the absence of real rivals Putin confidently won his election
Russia's presidential election was a much more sedate affair.

Vladimir Putin continues to enjoy a very high degree of popular support, and he was re-elected for a second term with an overwhelming majority.

While many Russians are dissatisfied with their lives, they tend to blame "politicians" in general, rather than the president in particular, for their problems.

Mr Putin's opponents complained that they were unable to gain equal access to the electronic media, which was blatantly biased in his favour. But after the election, his opponents on both the left and the right began squabbling among themselves over who was responsible for their crushing electoral defeat.

The Ukrainian and Russian presidential elections may have been controversial. But they offered the electorate a genuine choice.

A very different situation prevails in neighbouring Belarus, a much smaller country, and also one way behind Russia and Ukraine in terms of political and economic reform.

Belarussian clampdown

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko
Lukashenko made sure opponents stayed out of parliament
Belarus held a simultaneous referendum and parliamentary election in October.

The referendum's purpose was to seek approval for lifting the constitutional two-term limit on the president, Alexander Lukashenko, staying in office.

It was not the first time Mr Lukashenko, widely considered to be Europe's last dictator, had resorted to referendums to bolster his own authority.

In the event, no opposition candidates were elected to parliament. Indeed, many were barred from participating in the race after being disqualified on technicalities.

European observers, in stark contrast to their Russian counterparts, concluded that the referendum was grossly flawed and undemocratic.

Subsequent demonstrations in the capital, Minsk, were violently dispersed. This was one of the major factors which led to the European Union imposing a travel ban on a number of top Belarussian officials.

The official who oversaw both votes, Central Electoral Commission Chief Lidia Yermoshina, was unrepentant and said the EU ban would be "counter-productive".

Analysis: Ukraine looks west
27 Dec 04 |  Europe
OSCE slams Belarus vote: Text
18 Oct 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Belarus
20 Oct 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ukraine
27 Dec 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
05 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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