Daniel Hamilton: So we have a new CDU Chairman. Will a CDU-Green coalition follow after Germany’s federal election?

18 Jan

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

In September, Angela Merkel will step down as German Chancellor after sixteen years in office. Regardless of how one may judge her record, Merkel’s influence over the substance of European governance has been immense; from stamping her mark on EU fiscal rules to her open-doors policy during the migrant crisis to her final ascent for the UK’s post-Brexit deal.

The cast of names that have come and gone during her term in office – Tony Blair, David Cameron, Theresa May, Jacques Chirac, Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, George W.Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump– is without modern compare.

Partly because of constitutional constraints and partly due to post-war caution and conservatism, stability is a feature of German politics.  Since 1982, Germany has had only three Chancellors.  In the same period, the UK has had seven Prime Ministers.  Italy has had twenty-two.

The Große Koalition between the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) has now largely served in office since 2005.  This has effectively resulted in the two main parties adopting a similar, centrist persona, with disagreements tending to focus on tweaks and cadences of policies rather than fundamentals.

This has arguably hurt the SPD most, whose traditional platform, once grounded in patriotic labour unions and cosy accommodations with big businesses, has fractured as Germany has become more ethnically diverse, more start-up friendly and more ecologist in its views.  The party won 41 per cent of the vote in 1998, yet polls around 15 per cent today.

The CDU has its own problems.  Distinct from what “voting Merkel” meant – centrism, no surprises and the social market, with a strong nod to environmentalism – the CDU’s platform has a rather hollow feel.  It is accepted, for sure, that the party stands for the defence of Germany’s social market economy and a punchy approach to German influence at an EU level, yet its pro-immigration stances and seeming intransigence on tax cuts and deregulation have separately irked working class voters and entrepreneurs.

With the CDU and SPD unable to define their appeal effectively, an opportunity exists for other parties to gain ground.

While the hard-left Die Linke and market-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) are polling well enough to have a respectable presence in the next convocation of the Budestag, it would be wise to follow the public remarks of Die Grünen, Germany’s Green Party.

Overseas perceptions of the Greens are somewhat outdated and tend to revolve around images of the “68ers” – a radical student movement founded on ending the military draft, opposition to the Vietnam war and the modernisation of a stodgy political system still inhabited by the wartime generation.

Their march to the mainstream has, though, been a long one.

The decision in 1998 of Joschka Fischer, a veteran 68er and the country’s Foreign Minister during the Green coalition with the SPD, to advocate NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis upended the party’s pacifism-at-all-costs agenda, and led Germany into an overseas conflict for the first time since World War Two.  A Green Minister-President, Winfried Kretschmann, has governed the manufacturing-dominated state of Baden-Württemberg in coalition with the CDU for more than a decade; implementing a pro-business, R&D-friendly agenda that feels more modern than the SPD’s staider rhetoric.

The issue of immigration is as polarising or more so an issue in Germany as in other European countries, yet polling suggests that recent-naturalised Germans and the descendents of the Gastarbeiter generation which moved to the country from Turkey and Yugoslavia in the 60s and 70s lean strongly towards the Greens.  This offers the party another electoral advantage over the SPD.

There is much to dislike – or even, given the party’s more extreme factions, fear – in the Green Party’s platform, but the fact remains that the party appears to be on the verge of stitching together arguably the most electorally-appealing platform in German politics today.

With the CDU on course to win roughly a third of the vote when September’s elections come, the Greens on upward or around 20 per cent of the vote and all other blocks trailing far behind, the prospect of a CDU-Green, Schwarz-Grüne coalition is a distinct possibility.

The election of Armin Laschet as the new Chairman of the CDU on Saturday morning would, on the face of it, appear to represent a “safe” choice for the party.  Coverage of his victory has focussed on his jolly nature, centrist political brand and stewardship of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of Germany’s most important manufacturing hubs.

A debate will take place in Germany during the coming months as to whether Laschet will be the party candidate for Chancellor (he faces a potential contest including the guttural Bavarian Governor, Markus Söder, and the liberal Health Minister, Jens Spahn), yet this is a battle he is likely to win.  The fact he was able to see off the socially-conservative, immigration-sceptic Friedrich Merz and media-friendly Norbert Röttgen to win the top job suggests the party is looking for stability, not revolution.

There is little debate about whether the CDU and its Bavarian affiliate, the Christian Social Union, will win the plurality of votes in September.  With Laschet as their candidate, a Große Koalition with either the rump remainder of the SPD or resurgent Greens would appear to be both mathematically and politically possible.

CDU/CSU voters have proven to be a loyal block, yet their combined 45 per cent vote share in 2013 is a distant memory.  They now poll 35 per cent.  The price of such a fall in support is that no clear path exists for Laschet to pursue a coalition with the CDU’s traditional partners, the liberal FDP.  His only options are on the left.

Given the recent momentum of the Greens, it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could further erode support from the SPD and Die Linke, leading to an electoral percentage showing in the high twenties.  In this scenario, the pressure from both Green insiders and those on the left, battered by sixteen years of losses, for a leftist GroKo may be insatiable.  The price of such a coalition, particularly for Die Linke, would likely be the shelving of Green moderation in favour of a distinctively leftist agenda.

The implications of such a centre-left coalition would be profound – for both the UK and EU.

Notwithstanding recent Coronavirus-related speeding, a coalition of this kind would see the abandonment of the ‘Schwarze Null’ fiscal policy that mandates a balanced budget domestically and higher taxes on personal incomes and business.

For a post-Brexit UK, seeking to steer a path as a low-tax, regulation-light economy, a malcontent leftist coalition in Germany would likely serve as a Trojan Horse in the European Council for policies designed to disadvantage and undermine UK interests.

For all the criticisms of Laschet’s unambitious centrism and the gap that exists between British conservatism and the CDU’s social market economy orthodoxies, the preferred outcome for the UK is clear.

Daniel Hamilton: The Republicans must now decisively reject Trump

7 Jan

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

In decades to come, Donald Trump’s presidency will be remembered by two speeches that book-ended his term in office, both delivered from the steps of the US Capitol.

The first, his inaugural address in January 2017, spoke of “American carnage”, ending “the ravages of other countries” and preventing the “wealth of the middle class being ripped” away by ill-defined actors. It clearly defined the politics of paranoia and division that followed.

The second, delivered yesterday afternoon, was nothing short of an incitement of violence. “We will never give up and will never concede the election”, Trump said, baselessly asserting that the election had been “stolen by emboldened radical Democrats”.

Trump knows the power of words – and the actions they can result in.

The objections raised in Congress to the certification of the electoral college votes can only charitably be described as a malodorous cocktail to outright falsehoods, half-truths and sophistry grounded in no legal or procedural reality. The results of this pageant of absurdity – the storming of the US Congress by protestors, the ransacking of parliamentarian’s offices and the placing of pipe bombs at the headquarters of the Democrat and Republican parties – are plain to see.

But democracy, just as it always does in America, will win the day. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President on 20th January – and then it’s time for Republicans to cut the Gordian knot of the Trump years and decisively move on.

“In a President, character is everything”, Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter Peggy Noonan argued. “A President doesn’t have to be brilliant. He doesn’t have to be clever; you can hire clever. You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks”.

Trump at least partly took Noonan’s sentiments to heart.

His appointments to the Supreme Court may not be to everyone’s taste, yet Trump has ensured conservative orthodoxies will guide its rulings for the next quarter-century or more. His Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed America’s high corporate tax rates and delivered meaningful income tax cuts for working people. On foreign policy, while his intransigence towards traditional allies caused consternation, clear successes in the Middle East have been achieved.

“But,” as Noonan also reminds us, a President “can’t buy courage and decency, can’t rent a strong moral sense and needs to have a vision of the future he wishes to create”.

Therein lay the problem for the Trump administration; and hereby lies the challenge for a Republican Party that appears willing to present itself, at least for now, as the Trump Party.

Despite a successful economic agenda, Trump’s insensitive and intransigent approach to everything from sexual assault to coronavirus to immigration proved too much for many.

Make no mistake: Trump’s defeat in November was a personal repudiation, not a wholesale rejection of the Republican Party. Indeed, one of the biggest surprises of the recent elections was the robustness Republican congressional candidates showed, with the party only narrowly missing out on gaining control of the House despite a seven million vote deficit in the Presidential race.

In California, two naturalised Korean American women gained congressional districts from the Democrats at the same time as Biden won them convincingly. In the overwhelmingly Hispanic Miami area, two Democratic seats fell to Cuban American Republican challengers – also in areas Biden won handily.

The common message from those with knowledge of the campaigns on the ground was that the success of the two campaigns rested on two pillars: stressing their divergence from Trump on issues such as environmental policy and immigration and striking aspirational, positive – Reaganesque – tone on the personal and economic freedom.

Contrasting the strategies adopted in California and Florida back in November with those of the two Republican Senators defeated in run-off elections in Georgia on Tuesday, the differences are clear to see.

Rather than being able to highlight their own accomplishments and proposals, the campaigns of now ex-Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were reduced to a referendum on the President’s insecurities. Campaigning in the state earlier this week, Trump used his primetime TV slot to berate Republicans he saw as insufficiently loyal to his agenda and to bolster his claims about electoral malfeasance. Loeffler’s closing pitch on the same evening was essentially reduced to: “vote for us on Tuesday and we’ll throw out our state’s electoral college votes on Wednesday”.

Much has been written about the historic nature of the victories of Reverend Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Martin Luther King’s former church, and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish Senator in the Deep South. The victory of Warnock, in particular, is a victory for both post-racial politics in the Deep South and years of hard work among Democrats to organise around the state’s changing demographics. That should ring alarm bells for Republicans.

Rather than expand the Republican coalition as Democrats have successfully managed to do, Trump’s legacy as a both a candidate and President is to have narrowed it.

Suburban areas around the country – from Atlanta to Seattle to Philadelphia – have sharply moved against the Republicans under Trump. Polling further suggests that the outgoing President’s vulgar pronouncements and boorish nature had the effect of pushing ordinarily Republican-friendly groups such as the affluent university-educated voters and white women away from the party.

Only time will tell what further damage has been done to the party’s brand by the scenes of near insurrection in the Capitol yesterday. For 121 Republican congressmen – almost three in five of its members in the US House – to have backed the first procedural motion to throw out the results of the closely-fought state of Arizona shows just how badly Trump has toxified debate inside the party.

As the results on Georgia on Tuesday prove, demonstrating fealty to an unpopular President does not motivate voters; positive messages about economic recovery, aspiration and opportunity do.

In two years, Americans will go back to the polls to vote in mid-term elections history suggests they will be favoured to win. After the appalling scenes overnight, the Republican Party has a clear choice to make: to be the party of Donald Trump or to decisively move on, regroup and return to its roots as a low-tax, pro-freedom movement. What would Ronald Reagan do?

Daniel Hamilton: From Europe to Iran, what a Biden foreign policy will look like

10 Nov

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

On January 20th, Joe Biden will take office as President of the United States. First elected to public office in 1972, his length of tenure in public office is striking.

He first joined the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in 1973, when Mao was Chinese premier, Willy Brandt was Chancellor of West Germany, Tito ruled Yugoslavia, and Brezhnev was premier of the USSR. The foreign policy universe Biden cut his teeth in was one still framed by carnage of the post-World War Two order; far removed from the less clear threats we see today from organised terrorist groups and non-state actors like ISIS. Asia and Africa were then economic minnows.

Given the length of his record, a number of conclusions can be drawn about how Biden is likely to approach foreign policy challenges and the projection of US power on the world stage.

In Washington DC, the cache of “Europe” as a foreign policy focus has been gradually declining since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. With the long-term US policy ambition of seeing swathes of Eastern Europe admitted to NATO and the European Union realised, recent administrations have deprioritised European affairs to instead focus on strengthening US ties with fast-growing Asian markets.

Biden’s history of involvement in European issues is likely, however, to see a slight shift of US attention back to the continent. He was a senior member of Senate Foreign Affairs committee during the collapse of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, and Yugoslavian conflicts, where he was one of the key cheerleaders for the allied intervention in Kosovo. His decades-long relationships and interest in flashpoints such as Georgia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Ukraine will de facto represent in an upgrade of White House interest in European security policy.

Biden has always been a supporter of multilateral institutions – be they NATO, WTO or EU. Power blocs of this kind have, according to his worldview, led to collective action and pressure for positive change. To this end, it would be fair to conclude that Biden sees no particular upside to Brexit and has concerns about its impact upon the Belfast Agreement.

Despite fears in some quarters, a trade deal with the UK remains an easy win for any US President. Indeed, one could conclude that a Biden administration is less likely to push for the inclusion of some of the more politically-controversial health service and food hygiene aspects of the deal that the Trump administration were alleged to be keen on; making its passage simpler on a UK level.

The issue of US-Russia relations has been one of the reoccurring sagas of the Trump administration, with the outgoing President having been accused of kowtowing to the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. While Donald Trump reluctantly maintained sanctions under huge political pressure from Congress, Biden was one of the leading forces behind their initial implementation during the Obama administration and has been sharply critical of Russian operations in Syria.

While one should expect a further deterioration of relations with Moscow in the coming months, his record of dealings with Russia as a Senator is instructive. While he was repeatedly critical of domestic human rights abuses against political dissidents and Chechen separatists, he quietly championed a USSR-US deal on nuclear arms controls as far back as mid-1970s, resulting in a strengthened Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty that curtailed ballistic missile manufacturing in both countries. Biden is willing to negotiate – but to extract a price. This is how relations with Russia will be framed.

Arguably the boldest foreign policy decision taken by the Trump administration was its decision to withdraw from the P5+1 Agreement aimed at normalising political and economic relations with Iran. While the outgoing administration framed their opposition to the agreement on the grounds of it being excessively favourable to Iran, Biden will likely recommence of US engagement with its structures. The Republican-run Senate will do its best, however, to erect legal roadblocks designed to stall aspects of the deal related to trade and the lifting of sanctions.

On the broad topic of trade policy, Biden’s record shows him to have been broadly committed to freer trade and has opposed most tariffs. He backed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s WTO accession. Given his close links with the trade union movement and the emphasis his campaign placed on winning industrial states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, it will be interesting to see his past positions reconcile with growing US public sentiment towards protectionism in the Covid-19 era.

The future of US-China relations remains the biggest question mark hanging over the incoming administration. While Biden opposed the rolling tariffs Trump has imposed on Chinese imports into the United States, he has similarly been sharply critical of Chinese intellectual property infringements and state subsidies that harm US competitiveness. He has also described President Xi as a “thug” – a pointed remark for a politician who has tended to value velvety prose over confrontation.

Climate change policy – another likely area of tension between the US and China in the coming years – will receive a significant upgrade under Biden. He has already announced intention to return to 2015 Paris Agreement from “day one” of his presidency. Given the importance to the UK and the post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ narrative, securing a successful outcome from COP26 is a key priority. An engaged, enthusiastic US presidency will help rather than hinder this objective.

If environmental issues represent the biggest schism between the Trump and Biden administrations, a noticeable area of agreement between the two men is their shared aversion towards neo-conservative foreign policy positions. While Biden voted for early stages of Iraq war, he shares Trump’s scepticism of military interventions. Under Biden, the likelihood of US troops being sent to Syria or Iran is highly unlikely.

Similarly, one can expect a Biden presidency to adopt a similar policy agenda in respect of Israel. He has been a long-standing champion of US military and financial aid to Israel and has, notably, stated that he will keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem. The difference between Trump and Biden rests on the issue of the realisation of an independent Palestinian state. Biden has long favoured a two-state solution while Trump, despite pushing policy proposals that would essentially realise that objective, has shied away from using the term.

In Latin America, a Biden administration appears likely to follow a similar path to Trump, yet placing a stronger focus on environmental and human rights concerns. He has publicly backed Juan Guaidó over Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate President of Venezuela and has stressed his willingness to build relations with Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, while raising concerns about his administration’s policies towards the Amazon. If an area of tension between the outgoing and incoming administrations is to be found, it is likely in respect of Cuba, where Biden will likely seek to restart US-Cuba talks on a reset in political and economic relations.

Despite his willingness to negotiate, Biden’s record of public pronouncements – be it in furious opposition to apartheid-era South Africa, anger at Milošević’s butchery in Yugoslavia, or fury at the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – have long positioned him as one of the foremost human rights-focussed politicians in America. Those sentiments will guide him in office.

In conclusion, when it comes to foreign policy issues, Biden is a pragmatist rather than an ideologue; a widely experienced negotiator who prefers playing the long game to the pursuit of quick wins that fail to yield results. Multilateralism, not unilateralism, is the Biden way – and it will guide US foreign policy over the next four years.

Daniel Hamilton: Why I see hopeful signs for democratic transition in Belarus

10 Aug

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

Over the past three decades, there has been much to celebrate when it comes to the democratic transitions of countries that were formally part of the Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact.

One could easily argue that the transformation of many nations in the region from command economies with next to no political rights to free-market democracies represents one of the most rapid process of political and economic change ever recorded. This has been particularly evident in Central Europe countries such as Poland, the former Czechoslovakia and Baltics.

Belarus has stood apart from this trend; ruled for the past 26 years by the former Communist official Alexander Lukashenko whose governing style has more in common with that of Vladimir Putin than modern European democracies.

Much as in Russia, Lukashenko’s recent years have been characterised by the predictable pattern of behaviour that has governed his actions since 1994: a tightening of controls on internet access, the jailing of prominent opposition activists, the imposition of travel restrictions on opponents of the regime and effective rule by presidential decree.

Indeed, such is Lukashenko’s hold on power that in all his years in office, he has exercised such personal control over government that a credible internal alternative – a popular prime minister, a commanding defence minister or powerful domestic security chief – has never been allowed to emerge to challenge him. All credible opposition challengers have found themselves variously subjected to detention, torture and political exile.

In the last few years, a lazy impression has been allowed to emerge in foreign policy circles that Lukashenko has pursued – albeit tentatively – a path of cautious political reforms. Indeed, in 2016 the European Union lifted the bulk of economic and political sanctions against government-aligned firms, the president and 170 other senior figures in his administration and the country has been handed fast-track access to the Schengen Visa regime.

The problem with this narrative was and remains that these reforms were largely external posturing rather than internal and meaningful. Keen to balance historic good ties with Putin with the practical economic benefits of closer relations with European nations, Lukashenko’s administration declined to endorse Russia’s position regarding Crimea annexation and has stalled on granting the Kremlin permission to construct an air force base in Belarus.

In practical terms, Russia and Belarus remain technically tied to one another via the supranational Union State of Russia and Belarus; a 1999 treaty which, while not fully ratified, envisages an eventually Anschluss of the two nations.

For this reason, the emergence of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as arguably the first popular and viable challenger to Lukashenko in a quarter of a century is as welcome as it is, for those of us with a long-standing interest in Belarus, surprising.

Tikhanovskaya’s ascendency ought not to have been permitted by Lukashenko’s machine and owes itself to a combination of unforced errors, a good dose of hubris and old-fashioned misogyny.

Tikhanovskaya, as is so often the case in citizen-led uprisings – be it the small-town pastor László Tőkés whose harassment sparked riots against Ceauşescu in Romania or the Tunisian fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation led to a wave of revulsion against the Ben Ali junta – is an unremarkable figure.

An English teacher and interpreter with no prior involvement in public life, she initially entered the race as a “placeholder” candidate for her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger whose YouTube channel rails against poor living standards in the country, after he jailed for anti-government activities.

Her nomination to run for president was accepted by the Lukashenko-controlled Electoral Commission which felt, naively, that a woman was incapable of securing popular support. Instead, the united front she was able to display with representatives of the campaigns of other jailed and disqualified candidates, saw her rallies draw crowds of up to 60,000 across the country, far outstripping any opposition activity seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Her campaign appeared to be almost hydra-headed; with government crackdowns on rallies in one city only leading to a stronger turnout in another and intimidation tactics against activists spurring yet more reluctant Belarussians to leave their homes and take to the streets.

It important to note that, while Belarussians are eager for political change, that sense rests more on a push for higher living standards and public discourse does not feature, as in other transitioning democracies such as Georgia or Ukraine, searing antipathy towards Moscow.

Indeed, a significant contributing factor to Lukashenko’s ability cling to power for so long has been his ability to insulate Belarus from much of the instability associated with economic upheaval and lawlessness that has been seen elsewhere in the former Soviet space via the maintenance of Soviet-era structures. There has essentially been a quid pro quo in place in which many older voters were willing to accept autocracy as a trade-off for stability.

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign was arguably successful in that its message was a clear one: the introduction of reforms to weaken the all-powerful nature of the presidency and restore democratic oversight, the release of all political prisoners and a fresh presidential election within six months.

Tikhanovskaya’s “loss” yesterday – by an utterly implausible 80 per cent to 10 per cent margin – comes as no surprise.

Election Day itself was a predictable farce, with the Electoral Commission stating, as the polls opened, that in excess of 40 per cent of votes had already been cast during the early voting window. Numerous social media apps and VPN connections designed to circumvent government controls were reported to be inoperative, while independent election observers were denied access to all but a handful of pre-selected polling stations.

Here in the UK, reports from friends seeking to cast their ballots at the Belarusian Embassy in London yesterday say that around 300 people queued to vote, yet staff permitted only 20 per hour to enter the polling station, disenfranchising many.

It is often said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn – and that is where we are today.

The sheer brazenness of Lukashenko’s margin of a victory has left opposition forces with little choice other than to take to the streets in order to register their dissatisfaction. Indeed, the result appears almost intentionally designed to provoke the very type of street protests that were evident at the close of poll and are likely to continue in the weeks ahead.

The images of government brutality witnessed in the early hours of this morning were distressing and grimly predictable. The decision of security forces loyal to Lukashenko to deploy stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors destroys any forlorn hopes that may have existed that the government may be willing to consider a political compromise. Footage of armoured vehicles driving into crowds at speed, no doubt causing serious injuries and fatalities, is an aberration that cannot be overlooked. As Belarus wakes up this morning, the waves of revulsion will only build.

It is clear that the excitement Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has sparked in younger and ambitious middle-class Belarussians represents an aggressive reboot of civil society in the country – something that has been badly lacking in recent years.

On a personal level, seeing images of Pobeditelei Prospect, a three mile-long, six-lane drag that connects the city centre with the suburbs filled not with traffic, but political protest feels almost implausible. To me, the immaculate cleanliness of its pavements, the polished-yet-unprofitable conservatoires, the poignant museums to mark the country’s huge sacrifices in World War Two and austere Orthodox churches were symbols of Lukashenko’s sterile and autocratic rule – which is now showing signs of reaching its endgame.

This sparks the question as to how western governments ought to respond in order to place maximum pressure upon Lukashenko and best prepare the country for the democratic transition that – hopefully – lies ahead.

The re-imposition of sanctions against Lukahsenko, his key lieutenants and state-run businesses must be an immediate priority for the UK, EU and US. While critics of sanctions have argued that they may have the unintended consequence of increasing Belarussian economic dependence upon Russia in the medium-term, their imposition may yet prove to be a stabilising factor for the country.

It has long been the case that Lukashenko and key administration figures have sought to “securitise” billions in state assets in offshore banks in order to protect their personal finances in instances of political upheaval. To not cut off the country’s banking system from international payments systems at the time risks widespread asset-stripping in the coming days.

A fresh approach towards how western governments engage with civil society institutions in Belarus is also needed. The concept of an effective opposition is a new one for Belarus and political ideology, beyond a basic belief in the concept of democratic plurality, has played a limited role in the growth of support for Tikhanovskaya in recent weeks.

If change is to come in Belarus, that change will necessarily involve a fundamental overhaul of an economic structure which vests vast power in the hands of state officials at the expense of the private sector. To this extent, a strong package of technical assistance should be offered by both government and the think tank community in both Washington DC and London to help Belarussians fashion the kind of future state they wish to see – be it social democratic or centre-right.

Finally, those who wish to see the realisation of a democratic Belarus must accept that change may not come overnight.

Tikhanovskaya appears to recognise this; challenging the Electoral Commission to publish the correct, unaltered results or otherwise risk her supporters continuing their street protests throughout the coming days and weeks. These demonstrations of mass support will be critical in weakening the resolve of the domestic security apparatus who are, as I write, remaining loyal to Lukashenko and acting as de facto guarantor of his continued rule. In some outlying regions of the country, reports suggest that police have already started refusing orders to attack demonstrators.

While it’s rather passé to draw comparisons between the present situation in Belarus and the ousting of the former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, some critical lessons can be drawn from Ukraine’s recent experiences. These lessons revolve around a number of key areas: assiduous organisation of visible activities across the country, guaranteeing a united front against a common enemy even when other policy disagreements may exist, deploying the power of creativity and positivity in campaign messages and the use of social media and remaining patient and unstinting in the face of oppression.

In each of these cases, the Belarussian democratic opposition has already demonstrated their courage and fortitude.

The next days may yet prove to be difficult and bloody ones but, for Europe’s last dictatorship, change is finally coming.