The Background Of The Upcoming Belarusian Presidential Elections

The approaching presidential elections of Belarus are preceded by political tension as Lukashenko is trying to keep his position as president. According to the public experience, the incumbent president after 25 years seems to lack the support of the electorate. Instead, they give their support to Viktor Babaryko and Valery Tsepkalo. However, the two popular opposition candidates were denied the opportunity to run at the elections that take place 9 August. The Central Election Commission argued that Babaryko is “part of a criminal group”, and thus imprisoned, and Tsepkalo failed to collect the signatures necessary for the nomination.

The public response to this step of the government was cross country protests by Belarusian citizens, mostly younger people, who refused the exclusion of the candidates and showed their antipathy towards Lukashenko’s authoritarian power. The European Union had expressed its concerns about Belarus many times and warned Lukashenko that his undemocratic actions will have consequences, but nothing has happened so far. It is possible that the EU will wait until the elections take place and decide on its response according to the result. Moreover, the EU has to be careful with sanctions on Lukashenko, because too harsh of a punishment can turn Belarus to the Russians. Thus, the results of the elections will determine many factors both on a Belarusian domestic level and regionally.

Even though Lukashenko has tried to exclude his opponents who indeed have potential chance at the elections, and he might win for the 6th time since 1995, it is clear that his power is weakened and unstable. This year’s elections can have serious forecasts about the future of the country as more and more people are against his regime and wish for a more democratic and prosperous way of life. Hence, Lukashenko cannot relax after he wins; he will have to rebuild his power.

Alexander Lukashenko first won in 1995, at the last free and fair election of the country. Since then, he had an informal social contract with the citizens of Belarus. In exchange for their support at the elections, they could lead a stable and secure life with relative prosperity. However, the country still functions along the soviet model – the economy is based on heavy industry; and Lukashenko has refused every reform so far (and replaced those in his administration who have supported them). Thus, when the Russians started to decrease the amount of oil exported to Belarus, it started to affect many people economically, and has done so ever since due to the constant cutback. Moreover, the lack of responsible answers to the coronavirus pandemic from the government worsened the public opinion of Lukashenko. There were several bottom up initiatives to protect the most vulnerable, the elderly and each other. Volunteers organised themselves to promote social distancing, teach the public about the dangers of the virus and to do the shopping for those in need. As a result, the public started to refuse the high corruption and the authoritarian practices of the government and turned to the strengthened civil society and opposition candidates who are thought to bring change.

Although 3 popular presidential candidates are disqualified from the elections, of which 2 have been arrested, there is other candidates who face Lukashenko. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya decided to run because her husband is one of those 2 candidates who were imprisoned. Her children have been threatened to discourage her from running, but she is determined to continue with her candidacy. It is still unknown what will happen on 9 August, but that day is likely to be game changer whoever wins.