Opposition parties in Belarus have named Alexander Milinkevich to run against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in the 2006 election.
The political opposition in Belarus faces formidable challenges in trying to unseat Mr. Lukashenko, who is considered by many to be Europe's last dictator. He has shut down so much of civic life that his opponents have been forced to rely on printing presses and face-to-face campaigning. Cell phones, satellite television, and the Internet are too closely monitored by Belarusian authorities to be useful, say opposition members.
In order to get Mr. Milinkevich on the ballot, the opposition must collect one-hundred fifty-thousand signatures. Even then, the Belarusian government can disqualify him on almost any grounds. If Mr. Milinkevich succeeds in getting on the ballot, he is unlikely to have access to the state media. And the government recently shut down one of the last independent newspapers in Belarus, making it even harder for the political opposition to inform voters about its candidate. His supporters will have to figure out how to introduce him to voters through word-of-mouth and printed bulletins.
The government of Belarus has also severely restricted the right of political opponents to assemble freely. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belarusian police often use excessive force to disperse peaceful protests. Opposition figures Pavel Severinets, Nikolai Statkevich, and Andrei Klimov have all been imprisoned for their involvement in peaceful demonstrations.
The people of Belarus deserve the right to vote in a free and fair presidential election. At the moment, this looks unlikely. But there is still time for the government of Belarus to give the opposition access to the media, freedom to assemble and organize, and basic resources for campaigning.
The U.S. supports the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus. President Lukashenko should do the same.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.