A tense presidential election takes place this Sunday in Belarus, and voters turned out in droves. On the one hand, the current President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994 thanks to four re-elections. Belarus has not held a free ballot since 1995. Demonstrations have been forcibly put down on several occasions. But this year, faced with the steadfast president and despite growing repression, has managed to emerge an unexpected candidate who has mobilized the crowds: Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa.
The poll was scheduled until 8 p.m. this Sunday (7 p.m. in Paris) and preceded by an early vote, denounced by the opposition as favoring fraud. At 4 p.m. the turnout was 73.4%. The official polls leaving polling stations indicate this Sunday evening that Lukashenko would be in the lead with 79.7% of the vote.
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Rise in power
This political novice mounted a historic campaign, forming a refreshing trio with Véronika Tsepkalo, companion of an exiled opponent, and Maria Kolesnikova, campaign director of a former banker imprisoned when he wanted to run.
Before the emergence of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, Mr. Lukashenko’s main rivals had been sidelined: two are imprisoned, a third is in exile. The other three authorized candidates failed to mobilize.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, she replaced her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a blogger jailed in May while campaigning. Its success is all the more remarkable given that Belarus has never seen the emergence of a united and structured opposition. In case of victory, she promised to release “Political prisoners”, and organize a constitutional reform and then new elections.
Its rise was made against the background of growing economic difficulties, exacerbated by tensions with Russia, accused of seeking to vassalize Belarus, and of the controversial response of Alexander Lukashenko to the epidemic of the new coronavirus, which he qualified as “psychosis”.
But the authorities have redoubled their efforts to stem the rise of Tikhanovskaya. On Saturday, the head of her campaign headquarters, Maria Moroz, was arrested, and Maria Kolesnikova briefly questioned. Sunday, Veronika Tsepkalo preferred to go to Russia. According to the NGO Viasna, more than twenty people were arrested on Sunday, including three journalists from the independent Russian television channel Dojd. To this are added nine members of the Tikhanovskaïa team detained in recent days, according to his campaign.
The 37-year-old candidate, an English teacher by training, said she was holding on despite the “fear”, but had to leave his apartment on Saturday for security reasons.
Sunday, long queues of unprecedented voters formed in front of the polling stations. Opposition supporters wore white bracelets, a sign of support for their muse. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya invited them to send photos of their ballots in order to organize an independent count. She claimed a “Honest election” after voting.
Artiom, a 33-year-old programmer, claims to have observed fraud: “In my polling station, there is a participation of almost 100%”. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on Friday she had no illusions about the outcome, denouncing “Shameless frauds”. The number of independent observers has been reduced to a minimum.
Sign of tensions, in Minsk, police checks were put in place and traffic limited, while armored vehicles, military trucks, police vehicles and water cannons were deployed, according to witnesses and images posted on social networks . Many websites and social networks were difficult to access or cut off.
After voting, the Belarusian president signified that he “Would not allow loss of control” ni de «chaos» in the country, as calls to protest multiplied online. Attorney General Alexandre Koniouk warned against participating in unauthorized gatherings.
In recent days, Lukashenko has accused Russian mercenaries and opponents of preparing a «massacre». Claims rejected by his detractors and Russia.
“Knowing the ruthless nature of Lukashenko, anyone interested in Belarus will be worried about the Belarusian people in the coming days”says Nigel Gould-Davies, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and former British Ambassador to the former Soviet Republic.
LIBERATION with AFP