Amid Lackluster Presidential Race, Boycott Campaign Brings Out Big Crowd In Belarus
September 24, 2015
MINSK -- It's been a humdrum presidential election campaign in Belarus.
Serious contenders have been sidelined and authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in office for more than two decades, is expected to easily secure a fifth term.
The campaign's unexpected highlight came on September 23, when opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich urged voters to stay away from the poll on October 11 during a rare unsanctioned protest.
Hundreds of supporters flocked to downtown Minsk to hear Statkevich, who denounced the absence of any prominent opposition figure in the vote.
The three candidates cleared by Belarus's Central Election Commission to run against Lukashenka are the leaders of two pro-government parties and Tatsyana Karatkevich, a relatively obscure candidate representing the opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth).
Well-known opposition figures have criticized Karatkevich for ignoring their calls for a boycott and helping lend legitimacy to an election they condemn as a farce.
'There are no opposition candidates in the elections,' Statkevich told RFE/RL at the rally.
Statkevich himself ran against Lukashenka in 2010 but was jailed after the vote.
He was released from prison last month amid what is widely seen as Lukashenka's efforts to mend ties with the West.
RFE/RL journalists present at the rally said that many young people attended and that the atmosphere was similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.
Unlike previous rallies ahead of elections, however, this week's protest was not violently disbanded by the police -- another indication that Lukashenka is striking a more conciliatory tone.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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