Belarus opposition disputes chief's landslide win

3

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPeople have been detained in cities across Belarus, according to media reports

The main challenger to Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko has refused to accept the autocratic president won 80% of the vote in Sunday’s election.

About Belarus
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 opposition disputes leader's landslide win

About opposition
Opposition may refer to:

“I consider myself the winner of this election,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on Monday.

This follows thousands of arrests after protesters and riot police clashed in the capital Minsk and other cities.

Belarus opposition disputes leader's landslide win

A lack of scrutiny – no observers were present – has led to widespread fears of vote-rigging in the poll.

The election was held amid growing frustration at Mr Lukashenko’s leadership, with opposition rallies attracting large crowds. The preceding days saw a crackdown on activists and journalists.

The president has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad, and vowed not to allow the country to be torn apart.

  • How protests shook up Belarus presidential election
  • Europe’s longest serving ruler facing unfamiliar pressure

Mr Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote, according to a preliminary count, with Ms Tikhanovskaya receiving 9.9%.

Ms Tikhanovskaya entered the election in place of her jailed husband and went on to lead large opposition rallies.

Mr Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994.

What did Ms Tikhanovskaya say?

The opposition candidate said that the election results published on Monday morning “completely contradict common sense” and the authorities should think about how to peacefully hand over power.

“We have seen that the authorities are trying to hold on to their positions by force,” she said.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Ms Tikhanovskaya says she wants the authorities to hand over power

“No matter how much we asked authorities not to turn on their own people, we were not listened to.”

Her campaign said it would challenge “numerous falsifications” in the vote.

  • The political novice challenging an authoritarian president

“The election results announced by the Central Electoral Commission do not correspond to reality and completely contradict common sense,” her spokeswoman Anna Krasulina said.

But Mr Lukashenko poured scorn on Ms Tikhanovskaya’s comments.

“So Lukashenko, who is at the top of the power structure and at the head of the state, after getting 80% of the vote must voluntarily hand over power to them,” the president said. “The orders are coming from over there [abroad].”

“Our response will be robust,” he added. “We will not allow the country to be torn apart.”

What has the international reaction been?

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Belarusian counterpart on his victory, despite friction over accusations of a Russian plot which Mr Lukashenko has tried to link to the opposition.

The leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Azerbaijan have sent messages of support.

But the German government said it had “strong doubts” about the election and that minimum standards were not met.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the election results to be published.

“Harassment and violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe,” she said.

Meanwhile, Poland has called for an emergency EU summit to discuss the crisis.

Defiance on the streets

By Will Vernon, BBC News in Minsk

The centre of Minsk today is quiet, but tense. There are a large number of police and security forces patrolling the streets and lining the main squares, and we saw several columns of police and military vehicles moving around the city.

One local told us he had never seen so many police in Minsk. The internet has been completely blocked here – perhaps even across the country – and with TV being almost entirely controlled by the state, independent information is difficult to come by.

But people are defiant and say they will continue to come on to the streets. Maria Kolesnikova, a leading opposition figure, told us that they are making a direct appeal to the police and interior ministry troops to refrain from violence.

What happened in Sunday’s protests?

Demonstrators took to the streets in central Minsk as soon as voting ended. Many chanted “Get out” and other anti-government slogans.

Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Protesters have been calling for Mr Lukashenko to step down

Reports from a human rights group that a man had died proved to be untrue.

However, social media footage showed a man who had clung to the front of a police truck lose his grip as it accelerated, hitting his head.

The interior ministry said 50 civilians and 39 police were injured.

Three thousand people were arrested, the ministry added. About one-third of them were in Minsk, and the rest in other cities such as Brest, Gomel and Grodno where similar protests took place.

What’s the context?

President Lukashenko was first elected in 1994.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Mr Lukashenko cast his ballot at a polling station in Minsk

In the last vote in 2015, he was declared winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers and election observers reported problems in the counting and tabulation of votes.

The campaign saw the rise of Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mother until she was thrust into the political spotlight.

After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote, she stepped in to take his place.

President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “poor little girl”, manipulated by foreign “puppet masters”.

On the eve of the election Ms Tikhanovskaya’s team said her campaign manager had been arrested and would not be released until Monday.

And on Sunday, as people voted, internet service was “significantly disrupted”, according to online monitor NetBlocks. Opposition supporters say this makes it harder for evidence of election fraud to be collected and shared.

There were already concerns over a lack of scrutiny because observers were not invited to monitor the election and more than 40% of votes were cast ahead of the election.

Tens of thousands defied an escalating crackdown on the opposition last month to attend a protest in Minsk, the largest such demonstration in a decade.

Anger towards Mr Lukashenko’s government has been in part fuelled by its response to coronavirus.

The president has downplayed the outbreak, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease.

Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, has reported nearly 70,000 cases and almost 600 deaths.