YEREVAN — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian is receiving criticism in his country for issuing “hasty” congratulations to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the Central Election Commission (CEC) in Minsk announced he’d won a landslide reelection victory.
With widespread complaints of electoral fraud in Belarus, the preliminary official tally announced on August 10 by the CEC has spawned protests across Belarus that have been met by a harsh police crackdown.
Pashinian, in his message to Lukashenka on August 10, said he was confident 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.”
According to the CEC’s preliminary official tally, Lukashenka won 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 CEC’s results, saying that she considers herself the victor.
She has since left Belarus apparently under duress, with members of her campaign team saying she was forced out of the country by Belarusian law enforcement authorities after she visited the CEC headquarters in Minsk to file a formal complaint about the official vote count.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has condemned the violent crackdown against protesters in Belarus, calling on the Belarusian government to “accurately” count and publish the poll’s results.
In Yerevan, human rights activist Artur Sakunts said the Armenia prime minister’s “hasty congratulatory message” to Lukashenka was “unacceptable” — particularly from a leader like Pashinian who came to power as a result of widespread anti-government protests.
Sakunts, who heads the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, drew parallels between current events in Belarus and Armenia’s postelection protests of 2008.
Armenia’s former president, Robert Kocharian, is currently on trial in Yerevan over his alleged role in the deaths of 10 protesters during the 2008 crackdown against protesters by Armenian police.
In a message on Facebook, Sakunts 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 said the leader of a democratic country should not send congratulatory messages to authoritarian dictators, at least until the 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,” Sakunts said.
Opposition Bright Armenia party leader Edmon Marukian also says Pashinian was too quick to congratulate Lukashenka.
Marukian said he saw a “conflict of values” between the track record of Armenia’s current government 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,” Marukian said.
“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].”
Pashinian’s spokesperson Mane Gevorkian refused to comment on the criticism but said she was aware of it.
Ruben Rubinian, a member of Pashinian’s My Step alliance and the head of the parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed the criticism.
Rubinian said he sees nothing unacceptable in Pashinian’s congratulatory message to Lukashenka.
“In general, international relations are different from domestic politics,” Rubinian said. “International partnerships, relations between the heads of state, have a different level and have other components.”
Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization, which both include Belarus.
Other leaders from those groups, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, quickly sent congratulations to Lukashenka after preliminary official results were announced on August 10.