Europe – Unprecedented presidential election in Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 26 years, sees Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a novice in politics, appear before him.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (center) on July 31, 2020.

AFP

Alexander Lukashenko, who leads Belarus with an iron fist, faces a surprise opponent on Sunday during a presidential election unprecedented for this country, so many crowds have rallied for this young woman new to politics, defying repression .

In the days leading up to the vote, which takes place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Switzerland) on Sunday, the Belarusian government has redoubled its efforts to stem the rise of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, arresting the head of her campaign HQ on Saturday. , and denouncing since the end of July a plot of Russian opponents and mercenaries to put the country to fire and blood.

But her competitor, a 37-year-old English teacher, held on despite being “scared every day,” she told AFP on Friday. “Thank you for your support and your confidence (…) let’s wake up in a new country”, she again launched to her supporters in a video posted on Saturday, condemning the arrests of the last days and calling for vigilance in the face of frauds.

“Shameless frauds”

In her interview with AFP on Friday, she welcomed the “awakening” of Belarusians, after 26 years of the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko. But she also said that she had no illusions about the result because “shameless frauds” have already been perpetrated according to her at the time of the early vote from Tuesday to Saturday (about a third of voters have already voted). Especially since the number of independent observers has been reduced to a minimum.

Faced with this “worrying information”, France, Germany and Poland called for a “free and fair” ballot. The results are to be announced overnight or Monday. Demonstrations by detractors of power cannot be ruled out, if the opposition considers the ballot falsified. Alexander Lukashenko for his part clearly hinted that he would not hesitate to disperse them.

In Minsk, voters in favor of the opposition were therefore torn between hope and fear of reprisals. “I have some apprehensions,” said Nelli, a 40-year-old photographer, “We may have to seriously defend our position and our voices, which of course will be confiscated”. The opposition is planning to hold its own vote count, calling on voters to send in photos of their ballots and wear a white wristband in offices as a sign of recognition.

Before the surprise emergence of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Alexander Lukashenko, a 65-year-old ex-sovkhoz director, eliminated his main competitors in the spring and early summer: two of them are imprisoned, a third is exile. Three other candidates are in the running, but none has been able to mobilize.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya presents herself as an “ordinary woman, mother and wife” who replaced at short notice her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a blogger imprisoned in May while he was campaigning. Described as “poor girl” by Alexander Lukashenko, she knew how to mobilize even though Belarus has never been able to see the emergence of a united and structured opposition.

33 mercenaries

For this, she joined forces with two other women: Veronika Tsepkalo, the companion of an opponent in exile, and Maria Kolesnikova, the campaign manager of Viktor Babaryko, a former banker imprisoned when he wanted to present himself. In case of victory, she promised to stay in power only long enough to release “political prisoners”, organize constitutional reform and new elections.

Sunday’s vote is also taking place in an atmosphere of mistrust towards Moscow, of which Alexander Lukashenko is both the closest and the most turbulent ally. Never in 26 years have tensions been so concrete: for Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin’s “puppeteers” intend to make Belarus a vassal.

At the end of July, 33 Russians, suspected mercenaries of the opaque private military group Wagner, reputed to be close to Russian power, were arrested, accused of preparing a “massacre” in Minsk. Moscow rejected these allegations, denouncing an electoral “spectacle”.

AFP/NXP

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