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Belarus - Presidential Election - 2020

The presidential election in Belarus was held in 2020 as planned. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said 19 April 2019 as he delivered the State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly. Belarus announced that the next presidential election will be held on 09 August as the country’s authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka sought to play down the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. The election date was approved by the lower house of the parliament on May 8.

The president noted that politically active part of the society is concerned about the upcoming election campaigns: “I have no idea why this has suddenly become some sort of theme for disputes. We have the law, the Constitution. You know perfectly well that I will not shift things around seeking opportunities to cling on to power. Some so-called politicians suggest holding the presidential election this year citing the stable economic situation, more or less favorable conditions.”

“I would like to repeat again: we will not be looking for some favorable factors or some opportune moment. The presidential election should be held in 2020. So it will take place whatever happens in our country. We do not play with people or organize political games to promote one politician's interests. The presidential election will be held in strict accordance with the terms stipulated in the Constitution,” the head of state noted.

The explicit nature of the pre-election message was manifested in everything. It was clearly evident very strong public relations component. Lukashenko spoke quite emotionally, using all the tricks pramovnaga art. Every now and then she showed through charisma that so effectively worked in the 1990s. It was a thoroughly polemical, he constantly argued with some anonymous opponents. More than usual joking. Lukashenko directly appealed to the social groups that it considers its reliable electorate. That is, people with low incomes: kindergarten teachers, pensioners, the disabled, large families, residents of the regions, the rural population. Public relations component is most manifest in the form of populism, and, what is worth paying attention to, very cheap. Mostly it was a direct return to the old, uncomplicated populist rhetoric of the 1990s.

Lukashenko is going to go to the 2020 elections with the political program of the 1990s, at least at the rhetorical level. This is a definite retreat from electoral campaigns and 2010, and 2015, during which the reformist rhetoric, the appeal to new social groups was noticeable. Abandoning market reforms, Lukashenko seeks to preserve the old social structure of society, in order to artificially maintain its electorate. He believes that public-sector workers - is his fans. Pros, smart people, but all the same in any technological development will give the milk from a cow. For young people who want to go in search of a better life: if you want to wash dishes in the West?

Yet society has changed. Opinion polls show that the majority of Belarusians positively related to market relations. There are serious doubts that Lukashenka continues to feel the nerve of society, talking with him in the same language. For example, a relatively much attention he paid to the sport. It is unlikely that his electorate so interesting trivia and details of performances of Belarusian athletes.

His announcement came amid calls from some politicians to keep the dates of the presidential and parliamentary elections separate so that the election campaign periods do not overlap. Current legislation stipulates that the next presidential election must be held no later than August 30, 2020 and that the next general election must be no later than September 6, 2020. In the Belarusian legislation there is only the term ‘no later than.’ That is, it is impossible to hold elections later than these dates. But you can do it before this date, but there was nothing in the legislation stating how much earlier the elections can be held.

Political commentator Valere Karbalevich explains why many predictions about what will be the first presidential elections and that they will be held this year did not come true. "Lukashenko actually explained: I do not want to" twist "to the elections. I translate into plain language. Appoint presidential elections in 2019, ie one year ahead of the constitutional term - that is, to show that he is afraid of something that he is a weak, uncertain. So it's best "twist" to the parliamentary elections, assign them a year ahead of a constitutional deadline. This is a violation of the Constitution, because it is clearly stated the grounds on which it is possible to terminate the powers of the House of Representatives. But who is interested in the provisions of the Constitution, "- said the analyst.

Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state, and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since his election as president in 1994, Aliaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All subsequent presidential elections fell well short of international standards.

Since his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Lukashenka has steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referendums in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the presidential elections held in 2015 and parliamentary elections held in 2016, continued to deny citizens the right to express their will in an honest and transparent process including fair access to media and to resources.

Individuals could not criticize the president and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying certain historical flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

Government restrictions limit access to information and often result in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were rare and limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of independent media.

On 27 March 2018, President Lukashenka told Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich that the Ministry should be ready to “immediately suppress” any unauthorized events which “impede people’s lives” because “chaos stems from them [unauthorized protests].” Shunevich responded that “not a single event, which is not sanctioned by authorities, will take place, and even if it starts it will be immediately stopped in an effective manner and in compliance with the law.”

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus has barred Viktar Babaryka, seen as a major rival to incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, from running in a presidential election next month. CEC Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna said on 14 July 2020 that five candidates, including Lukashenka, were registered for the August 9 vote, but that Babaryka was not among them because his income declaration did not correspond to his real incomes and a foreign organization had taken part in his election campaign. In the presidential campaign, all those would-be candidates said to be the most serious challengers to Lukashenka -- vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, former bank executive Viktar Babaryka, ex-ambassador to Washington Valer Tsapkala, and opposition stalwart Mikalay Statkevich -- were all left off the ballot for reasons their supporters said were trumped up.

Lukashenko said on 17 November 2019 the Belarusian people could vote him out of office if they no longer wanted him. "I have promised that I would not hang on to this seat until my fingers turn blue. Trust me, it's not really the softest chair," he told reporters.

A representative poll of Minsk residents conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences throughout March and early April 2020 showed that the Lukashenka’s trust rating amounted to 24%, while the Central Election Commission enjoyed an even lower rating of 11%. Earlier surveys of the population also indicate a high degree of dissatisfaction with living conditions. Asked “How would you generally assess your current life situation?,” only 6.9% of respondents answered “Better than average.” The influence of persons specialized in the use of force in the Belarus’s ruling coalition increased after the June 2020 government reshuffle. Raman Halouchanka (Roman Golovchenko), who previously chaired the State Authority for Military Industry and served as a chief specialist of the State Secretariat of the Security Council, replaced liberal-minded economist Siarhei Rumas as a new prime minister. Belarusian authorities released dramatic video of a raid in which dozens of alleged Russian mercenaries were detained by security forces. The Belarusian government announced they were suspected terrorists, and state media said the men were seeking to "destabilize" the country ahead a presidential election on August 9. But some have suggested the raid was a political ploy aimed at sucking momentum out of an opposition candidate's campaign.

The Investigative Committee of Belarus said on 30 July 2020 that popular vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who was jailed after he expressed his intention to run for the presidency, was charged with "committing actions to incite social hatred and the assault of law enforcement officers." The statement added that Tsikhanouski, along with a veteran opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich and several unnamed individuals, were charged with preparing mass disorder, a crime that may be punished by up to eight years in prison.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, his wife, hoped to unseat Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Europe’s longest-serving leader who has been called the continent’s last dictator. She entered the race after her husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a firebrand vlogger, was arrested and then barred from collecting signatures to get on the ballot. He was one of many candidates -- three deemed serious challengers to Lukashenka -- barred from running by the Central Election Commission.

Unit 3214 of the Belarusian Interior Ministry forces was shown on TV July 29, 2020 violently dispersing a crowd during a training exercise. A former officer says the men are "zombies" who swore loyalty to the head of state, but they're just one of many options President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has for suppressing opposition rallies and protests as the atmosphere grows increasingly tense ahead of a presidential election on August 9.

Causing an internal crisis in Belarus is an ideal opportunity for employment of the Wagner Group -- a "private" Russian military company thought to be controlled by an influential political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin -- which often uses the shock doctrine in its operations. President Lukashenka accused Russia of trying to cover up an attempt to send 200 fighters from a private Russian military firm into Belarus on a mission to destabilize the country ahead of its August 9 presidential election. Earlier, 32 contractors from Vagner were detained near Minsk while another was detained in southern Belarus. Lukashenka made the remarks on 01 August 2020 after he said he'd read an initial report by Belarusian investigators into the alleged plot by members of the Vagner Group.

The Belarusian presidential election was officially slated for August 9, but voting actually started five days before. The Central Election Commission said on August 4 that all of the country's nearly 7 million eligible voters could vote early, casting ballots at 5,767 polling stations set up in public spaces, including medical facilities and army barracks, and at 44 polling stations abroad. Early voting by students, soldiers, teachers, and other state employees is encouraged -- sometimes enforced -- and critics says it allows more time to tamper with ballots cast and manipulate the outcome.

Central Election Commission (TsKV) chief Lidzia Yarmoshyna headed the TsKV for 23 years. She has presided over the process each time Lukashenka, first elected in 1994, has secured a new term: in 2001, 2006, 2010, and 2015. Yarmoshyna replaced Viktar Hanchar, who was fired by Lukashenka in 1996 after he refused to certify results of a referendum that expanded Lukashenka's power. Hanchar disappeared in 1999, one of up to 30 Lukashenka opponents or perceived foes who went missing around that time.

Lukashenka dominates state-run media outlets, which convey his message to the public uncritically. In the past, Lukashenka has repeatedly calling out security forces to quell any postelection unrest. Lukashenka faced a changed populace, one that wanted fair elections and responsible governance. With Lukashenka’s popularity apparently waning, challengers stepped forward, drawing large crowds in Belarus, where unsanctioned rallies are usually dispersed by police. Since May, more than 1,100 people have been detained as Lukashenka vowed there would be no “Maidan,” a reference to the 2014 protests in Ukraine that led to the ouster of a Moscow-friendly president.

Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign had taken off, aided by two other high-profile women, in what had been hailed as a new wave of female political activism in conservative Belarus. The almost accidental candidate Tsikhanouskaya has managed to wow crowds across Belarus, seeming to tap into pent-up frustration with Lukashenka’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the stagnant economy, which is still largely reliant on inefficient state-run firms.

Veranika Tsapkala headed the campaign of husband, Valer, a former ambassador to Washington and the founder of Minsk’s High Tech Park, who fled amid threats first to Moscow and then to Kyiv. The other woman to join Tsikhanouskaya’s team was Maryya Kalesnikava, who led the stymied campaign of Viktar Babaryka, former board chairman at Russian-owned Belgazprombank.

Facing his most serious challenge to date, Lukashenka appeared to take no chances with the vote result. Observers and opposition figures said that one of the first signs suggesting the election may have been rigged came early on August 9 when the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that turnout from early voting that started on August 4 was some 42 percent, a record for a Belarusian presidential election. Critics say early voting is when the bulk of the ballot-box stuffing occurs, as many of these polling sites are not under close supervision and the process is easier to manipulate.

The Lukashenka government wasted little time issuing an exit poll showing him with about 80 percent of the vote and Tsikhanouskaya, who attracted thousands to rallies across the country, in the single digits. Analysts expected the official results would be similar. According to the Central Election Commission, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko received 80.1% of the vote, his main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya garnered 10.12%. Protests erupted in the country's capital of Minsk and several other cities following the presidential vote, leading to clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers.

The EU does not recognise the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an emergency summit on Wednesday. European Council President Charles Michel said the bloc will impose sanctions on those involved in electoral fraud or the repression of protests. "There is no doubt that there were massive rule violations in the election," Merkel told reporters in Berlin after an emergency video summit with EU leaders. "The election was neither free nor fair. And that's why the result of the election cannot be recognised."

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Page last modified: 23-08-2020 17:07:05 ZULU