Belarussians go to the polls today to select a president.
The incumbent president, Aleksander Lukashenka, is standing again. He has been president since 1994 of the Republic of Belarus, a state whose existence he opposes (he was the only MP in the Belarussian Supreme Soviet to vote against independence from the USSR). His entire presidency has had the aim of reuniting Belarus with Russia, an aim which came closer with the coming into being of the Union State. Last year, he signed an agreement with Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to launch the Eurasian Economic Union.
The EEU is primarily a trading bloc. Whilst Russia and Belarus seek closer political, military and cultural integration, Kazakhstan is resisting. However, military integration is demonstrated by all of the members of the EEU simultaneously being members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (also known as the Tashkent Pact, a successor to the Warsaw Pact). Both Lukashenka and president Putin are on record as viewing the EEU and CSTO as being the precursor to reunification of the former Soviet states (with the exception of the Baltic republics).
Lukashenka is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator". When I was last in the CIS, I travelled to Minsk, and met with some young dissidents, one of whom mentioned that Lukashenka has the unfortunate habit of imprisoning his opponents. (Minsk, incidentally, is the most terrifying place I have ever visited, and I've been to Paisley three times).
That was certainly true of the 2010 presidential election, where the president won a fourth term in office. On election day itself, two opposition candidates were beaten by Committee for State Security (KGB) troops. Lukashenka comfortably won the vote, and the runner-up, Andrey Sannikov, who scored just over 2,5% of the vote, was arrested by the KGB and sent to a prison camp for five years. Of the nine opposition candidates - none of whom got more than 2,5% of the vote, seven were arrested by the police or the KGB within a day of the vote. Lukashenka won the election with 79,7% of the vote.
This was a drop in support from the previous, 2006, election, where Lukashenka scored 84,4% of the vote in elections described by CIS observers as "open and transparent". The OSCE attempted to monitor the election, but its Georgian observers were arrested by the Border Guard. There was no immediate mass imprisonment of opposition candidates, although the Social Democratic candidate was beaten by interior ministry troops as he attempted to enter a meeting of the Supreme Soviet.
However, within days, a protest movement had arisen. This was soon disbanded by the police and KGB, and the opposition leader promptly arrested.
In considering all of this, it may seem unlikely that Lukashenka will be toppled tomorrow.
The candidates are:
Sascha Lukashenka (Independent)
Sergei Kalyakin (Belarussian Left)
Sergei Kaidukevich (Liberal Democrats)
Tatsyana Karatkevich (Tell The Truth)
The CIS monitoring mission consists of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the CIS Parliament, the Union State Parliament and the CIS Executive Committee.
Opinion polling so far suggests that Lukashenka will win a fifth term in office.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round, a run-off will be held between the top two candidates. But this is similar to saying that if I turn into a massive beaver named Geoffrey tomorrow, I will spend most of my day living in rivers and building dams.
Lukashenka will retain power, there will be protests, people will be arrested, and people will die. Such is the reality of life in a country without a functioning democracy.