The August Presidential elections in Belarus has led to months of mass protests, sanctions, and speculation of wavering support from Belarus’ closest ally. The August elections saw incumbent President, Alexander Lukashenko capture over 80% of the national vote securing himself his sixth consecutive term as President of Belarus. Despite what he has claimed was a fair election, the results have put Lukashenko in a difficult position. In response to Lukashenko’s victory, pro-democracy protests have been sustained for many months. 100,000 pro-democracy supporters have taken to the streets in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and other major cities calling for Lukashenko’s resignation. The subsequent crackdown on the protesters has been intense. Reports include incidents of protesters being targeted with flash bangs, tear has, and rubber bullets. Observers believe over 15,000 individuals have been detained in the crackdown with many more injured. Cell phone coverage was reportedly turned off and the land borders were partially closed to foreigners earlier this month. The crackdown has caused an outcry of from Western countries and a denouncement of Lukashenko by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
The European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States reject the results of the August election and fail to recognize Lukashenko as the President of Belarus. In October, sanctions were levied against individuals within the Lukashenko administration. Belarus responded impotently with its own sanctions weighed against the European Union. With the crackdowns becoming increasingly violent, the EU is considering further sanctions in addition to those applied last month. EU officials expect sanctions to be approved, which would also include sanctions against Lukashenko himself. Additionally, the United Nation’s top human rights body has called for a halt against the crackdown. Belarus in response has said they have taken the necessary steps to peacefully restore peace. However, Belarus is not investigating any allegations of police abuse.
The EU has also awarded Tsikhanouskaya its top human rights prize. The Andrei Sakharov Freedom award, honours individuals or groups who defend human rights and freedoms. Tsikhanouskaya, who remains exiled to Lithuania, has called for protests to expand into nationwide labour strikes. The intent would be to halt production in state-run industrial plants, which form a large portion of Belarus’s economy. These strikes would further damage Belarus’s economy, which has suffered greatly because of COVID-19, contracting 1.3% this year. The State Security Committee are monitoring the state factories. Facing civil unrest, a hemorrhaging economy, a surging opposition voice, observers have noted that Moscow could look to encourage Lukashenko to find a successor before the administration is completely overthrown.