Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Despite incentives from the European Union to introduce reforms, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka maintained a tight grip over Belarus’s political and economic systems in 2009. He continued to use police violence and other forms of harassment against the political opposition, and blocked independent media from covering demonstrations through systematic intimidation. After releasing all of its political prisoners in 2008, the regime incarcerated more activists in 2009. The country made no substantial progress in reforming its electoral code, and overall hopes for an improvement in the political situation went unrealized.
Belarus is not an electoral democracy. Serious and widespread irregularities have marred all recent elections. The 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the bicameral National Assembly, are popularly elected for four years on the basis of single-mandate constituencies. The upper house, the Council of the Republic, consists of 64 members serving four-year terms; 56 are elected by regional councils and 8 are appointed by the president. The constitution vests most power in the president, giving him control over the government, courts, and even the legislative process by stating that presidential decrees have a higher legal force than ordinary legislation. The National Assembly serves largely as a rubber-stamp body. The president is elected for five-year terms, and there are no term limits.
Ethnic Poles and Roma often face discrimination. Women are not specifically targeted for discrimination, but there are significant discrepancies in income between men and women, and women are poorly represented in leading government positions. As a result of extreme poverty, many women have become victims of the international sex trade.