Freedom House Rating
Presidential Republic (in name; in fact a dictatorship)
|NEXT BELARUS ELECTIONS
August 9, 2020
February 2022 (due)
By November 2023 (snap possible)
|PAST BELARUS ELECTIONS
November 17, 2019
February 18, 2018
October 11, 2015
Belarus is scheduled to hold a presidential election on August 9, 2020.
Belaraus – sometimes called “Europe’s last dictatorship” – has choreographed elections and minimal space for political dissent, with periodic violent crackdowns on opposition. President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since the establishment of the office in 1994.
The opposition has boycotted a series of recent elections. In 2016 parliamentary polls, two opposition candidates – Alena Anisim and Hanna Kanapatskaya – won seats, despite the elections being widely judged as neither free nor fair. Conversely, no opposition candidates won seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections (which took place a year early). In addition, both Anisim and Kanapatskaya were barred from being candidates. Observers noted blatant irregularities (for example, an observer videotaped ballot stuffing, but the authorities did nothing to stop the fraud). Lukashenko called on Belarusians to make sure the parliamentary elections were “calm and quiet” – in short: vote for his candidates, not the opposition.
Lukashenko has been Belarus’s president since 1994. He is the only person who has ever served as president of Belarus. During the 2015 presidential elections, Lukashenko received 84 percent of the vote, and opposition candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich received 4.5 percent (the “against all” option received the remainder).
The opposition has the stated goal of fielding a single candidate against Lukashenko, and the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic opened up the space for a genuine challenge. However, a pre-election crackdown and arrests of over 120 opposition figures, journalists, bloggers, and other dissenting voices threatened to throw a wrench into the opposition’s plans. Importantly, the election commission denied registration to the two candidates seen as the biggest threats to Lukashenko: banker Viktor Babariko and former ambassador to the United States Valery Tsepkalo, who has since fled the country.
However, on July 17, much of the opposition united around Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Both the Babariko and Tsepkalo campaigns threw their support behind her. Tikhanovskaya’s husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, is a popular YouTube blogger who waged an anti-Lukashenko campaign called “Stop the Cockroach.” He had planned to run for president himself, but was denied registration and subsequently arrested. He remains in prison. However, Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old language teacher, has risen quickly to run a serious campaign that has inspired many Belarusians.
In short, Tikhanovskaya’s candidacy, with a united opposition behind her, poses the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko’s rule.
Russia pushing for closer integration with Belarus within the framework of a “Union State” – perhaps as a precursor to an attempt to annex Belarus. Meanwhile, relations with the West are beginning to thaw. In short, Belarus is playing its own game, and is also a site of geopolitical competition between Russia and the West.
Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Reuters (July 26, 2020): Self-exiled Belarus presidential contender pins hopes on new ‘Joan of Arc’
Robin Dixon, Washington Post (July 23, 2020): Belarus’s Lukashenko jailed election rivals and mocked women as unfit to lead. Now one is leading the opposition.
Andrei Makhovsky, Reuters (July 14, 2020): Hundreds protest in Belarus after two main challengers barred from election ballot
Human Rights Watch (May 22, 2020): Belarus: Activists, Journalists Jailed as Election Looms
Grigory Ioffe, Jamestown Foundation (May 18, 2020): Intrigue in Belarus’s Upcoming Presidential Election
Ryhor Astapenia, Chatham House (November 28, 2019): Three Takeaways From the Belarusian Parliamentary Elections
AFP (November 17, 2019): Belarus polls under scrutiny as strongman reaches out to West
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