With only a week to go before Belarus’ presidential vote, polls are banned and exactly how popular each of the candidates is has remained one of the great mysteries of this election.
However, one local paper found a clever dodge to gauge public mood ahead of the vote. It ran a poll where readers could vote on their favourite films.
“As you know, electoral polls are prohibited, even online. But Belarus portal @tutby found the solution: they asked their readers to vote for the "most interesting" movie: "A Single Man" [with] Tom Ford, "3 Women" by Robert Altman, "Anna" by Luc Besson, and others,” Franak Viacorka tweeted.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been on his back foot for several months after an informal online poll found that he only has 3% support, a result that sparked the “Sasha 3%” memes lampooning his poor showing.
But more seriously, since Tikhanovskaya was accepted by the Central Election Commission (CEC) as an official presidential candidate there are no polling numbers that give any indication of just how popular she is.
Tikhanovskaya, a former housewife turned revolutionary leader, has mounted an inspiring campaign that has united the country behind her. She has drawn record-breaking crowds in Minsk, Brest and a dozen smaller cities during a campaign tour in the last weeks. And while she is clearly popular – an estimated 5% to 10% of the entire electorate of several town turned out to see her speak in many venues – it is still not clear how much of a lead she has over Lukashenko.
The evocative movie titles were clearly chosen to mirror the presidential race. In the portal’s poll 61% of respondents voted for “Three women”, while only 3% voted for “One man” an obvious reference to Lukashenko.
Another 1% voted for “Andrushka,” a diminutive of Andrei that is a reference for pro-state alternative candidate Andrei Dmitriev. The Luc Bresson flic “Anna” is a reference to Anna Kanopatskaya, another pro-state figure who is the daughter of Belarus’ first ever dollar millionaire and has been dubbed by some as “the most hated woman in Belarus.”
While the poll is in no way scientific, it suggests Tikhanovskaya enjoys massive support and would win in the first round if the election was free and fair.
The three women also include Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of Valery Tsepkalo who was barred from the race and fled the country with their children, and Maria Kolesnikova, who ran the campaign of ex-banker Viktor Babariko, who was jailed on money-laundering charges. Their 61% cannot be taken at face value, as an online poll is necessarily biased in the opposition’s favour.
Lukashenko does enjoy some residual support. He was elected to office in 1994 on the promise of change and stamping out corruption and the neo-Soviet system he has run ever since has sheltered the old and working class state employees from the worst economic ravages that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. His core voters include pensioners and conservative working class state employees, as well pro-Russian citizens that would like to see a union with Russia. This group is not particularly internet savvy, whereas the opposition supporters include a large number of young people in their 20s and 30s who are.
Nevertheless, having a gauge of the scale of support is important, as it provides a benchmark against which to judge any vote fixing in the upcoming election.
The result also totally contradicts a poll commissioned by the state-owned broadcaster ONT broadcaster and published on July 28 that gave Lukashenko 72.3% support and Tikhanovskaya only 7.5%.
Observers are expecting the official result of the election to come in along the lines of ONT’s poll as, similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko needs to win by a landslide to ensure the support of the elite. A close-run race with a second round would make Lukashenko look weak, even if he won the election, and invites a palace coup.
On the other hand, as Putin also found out after the 2011 Duma elections were blatantly fixed, if the result is too unrealistic then that will provoke massive street protests.
Interestingly, the favourite film poll also included a “none are interesting” category that scored 27% of the vote. This suggests there is a large group that is not interested in politics at all, or have simply resigned themselves to the fact that the vote will be rigged so there is no point in voting at all.