Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has heard criticism in Armenia over his “hasty” congratulations to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on his re-election in a ballot disputed by his main opposition challenger.
In his official message to Lukashenka on Monday Pashinian expressed his confidence that “through our joint efforts we will continue to strengthen the friendship between our peoples, to expand mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries both bilaterally and within the framework of international organizations and integration associations.”
Belarus’s Central Election Commission said preliminary official results from the August 9 presidential election showed incumbent President Lukashenka winning a landslide victory with more than 80 percent of the vote, compared to less than 10 percent for his main rival, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Tsikhanouskaya, who drew tens of thousands of people to her campaign rallies, refused to recognize the preliminary official results announced on Monday.
The ballot in Belarus was followed by violent clashes between police and thousands of protesters who say the official results from the election commission were rigged.
A human rights group in Minsk said that at least one protester was killed in the clashes, but Belarus’s Interior Ministry denied that.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on August 10 condemned the violence in Belarus, calling on the Belarusian government to “accurately” count and publish the poll’s results.
Armenia’s leading human rights activist Artur Sakunts believes that in such conditions a hasty congratulatory message from a leader like Pashinian who himself came to power due to mass street protests was unacceptable.
In a Facebook post Sakunts, who heads the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, also drew parallels between the current developments in Belarus and Armenia’s post-election protests in 2008 in which 10 people were killed and for which former President Robert Kocharian is currently on trial in Yerevan.
He wrote: “How can a state whose prime minister congratulates dictator Lukashenka later prosecute Kocharian for the same? This is a complete anachronism of values and principles... This is just absurd.”
Sakunts stressed that in such conditions the leader of a democratic country should not send congratulatory messages at least until final official results are published. “If he wants to show his attitude in any way, he should at least express his concern over the fact of human rights violations and call for the resolution of all issues within the framework of the rule of law,” the human rights activist said.
Opposition Bright Armenia party leader Edmon Marukian also believes that Pashinian hurried by congratulating Lukashenka. He said that he saw a “conflict of values” between the track record of Armenia’s current governing force and the prime minister’s congratulatory message.
“I would wait for the processes of disputing the election results by the opposition to go through at least internal instances and only then make a decision on that. In this regard, the prime minister took a hasty step,” Marukian said. “One protester already died [in Belarus in clashes with police]. More than 3,000 people have been detained. Opposition leaders are in jail, media leaders and journalists are in jail. And the prime minister is putting it all aside and hurrying to congratulate [Lukashenka].”
The prime minister’s spokesperson Mane Gevorkian refused to comment on the criticism, but said that she was aware of that and followed it.
Ruben Rubinian, a member of Pashinian’s My Step alliance who heads the parliament’s foreign relations committee, has dismissed the criticism, saying that he sees nothing unacceptable in the Armenian prime minister’s congratulations to Lukashenka.
“In general, international relations are different from domestic politics. International partnership, relations between the heads of state have a different level and have other components,” Rubinian said.
Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization both of which also include Belarus.
Other leaders of the alliances, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, also sent congratulatory telegrams to Lukashenka on his re-election.
Belarus’s autocratic leader who turns 66 later this month has occupied the presidential post since 1994.