Belarus Presidential Election: August 9, 2020


Belarus opposition activists protest in Minsk’s October Square following the 2006 presidential election.
Photo credit: Wikimedia/Redline (public domain)

KEY FACTS
Freedom House Rating
Not Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic (in name; in fact a dictatorship)
Population
9.5 million
NEXT BELARUS ELECTIONS
Presidential Election
August 9, 2020
Local Elections
February 2022 (due)
Parliamentary Elections
By November 2023 (snap possible)
PAST BELARUS ELECTIONS
Parliamentary Elections
November 17, 2019
Local Elections
February 18, 2018
Presidential Election
October 11, 2015

Belarus is scheduled to hold a presidential election on August 9, 2020.

Political Context

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.

The 2020 Presidential Election and A Serious Challenge to Lukashenko

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.

Geopolitical Context

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.

Curated News and Analysis

Meduza (July 27, 2020): ‘This is a turning point in Belarusian history’ Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on how her presidential campaign is taking on Lukashenko

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

The Economist (June 20, 2020): Waving slippers at the “cockroach” president of Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko, who touted vodka for covid-19, faces real opposition

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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