In the capital, Minsk, live feeds from Radio Free Europe showed riot police using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters.
After polls closed Sunday, the head of Belarus’ central election commission Lydia Yermoshina said on the Belarus-1 TV channel that Lukashenko was ahead in five regions with about 82% of the vote. Official exit polls published by state-run news agency Belta put Lukashenko at about 80% of the vote — with his main rival, opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, at about 7%.
Belarus (; Belarusian: Беларусь, IPA: [bʲɛlaˈrusʲ]), officially the Republic of Belarus (Belarusian: Рэспубліка Беларусь, Russian: Республика Беларусь), formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia (Russian: Белоруссия), is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its major economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.
In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, different states arose competing for legitimacy amidst the Civil War, ultimately ending in the rise of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR) which became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922. Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921). Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, and were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a quarter of its population and half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR. The parliament of the republic proclaimed the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, forming the Union State.
Alexander Lukashenko has served as the country’s first president since 1994. Belarus has been labeled “Europe’s last dictatorship” by some Western journalists, on account of the country’s poor human rights record and Lukashenko’s self-described authoritarian style of government. Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. Elections under Lukashenko’s rule have been widely criticized as unfair; and according to many countries and organizations, political opposition has been violently suppressed. Belarus is also the only country in Europe officially using the death penalty. Belarus’s Democracy Index rating is the lowest in Europe, the country is labelled as “not free” by Freedom House, as “repressed” in the Index of Economic Freedom, and is rated as the worst country for press freedom in Europe in the 2013–14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Belarus 157th out of 180 nations.Over 70% of Belarus’s population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second-most widespread religion, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following; nevertheless, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is a member of the United Nations since its founding, the Commonwealth of Independent States, CSTO, EEU, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Belarus has shown no aspirations for joining the European Union but nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the Union, and likewise participates in two EU projects: the Eastern Partnership and the Baku Initiative.
Belarus election: Protests as preliminary results give President …
Monitoring organization Golos said it counted more than a million ballots and, according to its calculations, Tikhanovskaya won 80% of the vote.
Belarus election: Protests as preliminary results give President …
Final results are due to be announced Monday.
Tikhanovskaya, a former English tutor, became an unexpected rival and the face of the opposition after taking over from her husband, Sergey Tikhanovskiy, a popular YouTube blogger and former candidate who has been jailed since May.
Her campaign rallies saw significant turnouts even in small Belarusian towns not known for their protest activity. About 63,000 people attended the largest event in Minsk in July — making it the biggest demonstration in the past decade.
Tikhanovskaya joined forces with two women who ran other opposition campaigns after their candidates were also either barred from running or jailed. Lukashenko had dismissed them as “poor girls” in his annual state of the union address on Tuesday and said he will not “give the country away.”
The night before the election, Tikhanovskaya’s campaign said she fled her apartment and went into hiding due to safety concerns after police detained several of its senior staffers. Critics called the move an attempt to intimidate the opposition ahead of the crucial vote. Her adviser, Veronika Tsepkalo, fled Belarus for Moscow for safety reasons, the campaign said on Sunday.
Tikhanovskaya’s campaign manager Maria Kolesnikova was also taken to a police station for questioning on the eve of the vote. A day before that, campaign manager Maria Moroz was briefly detained.
Nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator,” Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic of more than 9 million people since 1994. He has long drawn international criticism for suppressing dissent, and the country’s secret police — still known as the KGB — often detain and harass opposition activists and independent journalists.
US State Department expresses concern at crackdowns under ‘Europe’s last dictator’
In the run-up to the election, law enforcement seemingly stepped up its crackdown efforts as riot police made multiple arrests to break up impromptu demonstrations against the President. Local media outlets warned of a possible internet shutdown in case protests erupted across the country.
Framed as one of the toughest challenges to Lukashenko’s 26-year-long rule, it was the Belarus strongman’s sixth reelection campaign. Thousands of opposition supporters had poured onto the streets in recent weeks to voice discontent with the country’s economic situation, poor coronavirus response, and lack of personal freedoms and reforms.
The poll saw a massive turnout, according to official data, with the country’s Central Elections Committee reporting 65.19% turnout as of 2 p.m. local time Sunday.
Yet internet access has been largely restricted, and was completely shut down in central Minsk, according to local reports.
NetBlocks, an NGO that tracks internet shutdowns worldwide, said in a tweet late Sunday, “Multiple internet providers in #Belarus have lost routing as polling stations start to close from 8:00 p.m; geolocated network data confirm the new disruption has nation-scale impact further limiting visibility of events.”
Most apps and websites were taking longer to load, including Whatsapp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. Telegram Messenger, which serves as the main communication tool for the Belarusian opposition, was unavailable at times or only accessible via proxy servers.
Independent observers in Belarus, such as the “Honest people” volunteer monitoring group, said they also found significant discrepancies between the officially announced turnout and the number of people entering polling stations that they were able to count.
Most independent observers were barred from monitoring the election. Dozens of independent observers were detained on Saturday and early Sunday, according to the “Honest people” and “Right to choose” initiatives.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in July it would not be sending observers to Belarus as it hadn’t been invited by the country’s authorities.
The foreign ministries of France, Germany and Poland said they would be monitoring the elections with “great concern” due to “worrying reports of electoral irregularities during early voting.” The three countries said the European Council was also not allowed to oversee the electoral process.