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Belarus Crisis at a Glance

Mr Lukashenko, who has often been called “Europe’s last dictator,” was first elected in 1994 in what outside observers thought was a fair and free election, but every election since then has been in dispute. In 2006, he boasted that he had publicly lowered his share of the vote to 93.5 per cent to 86 per cent because the original number seemed too high. It is difficult to gauge the popularity of Mr Lukashenko because independent polling is mostly illegal and government polls are confidential. Observers believe he generally had wide support until recently, with a faltering economy and mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic among the sources of discontent. But they never doubted that Mr Lukashenko would be the winner of the election as he controls the electoral system.

The December 2010 election, had been followed by “a massive crackdown” on political opponents, human rights groups and media, and hundreds of arrests, with allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody”, which had made Fifteen recommendations to the Government by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR). Few of these fifteen recommendations were implemented and, almost ten years after the December 2010 election, we see many of the same patterns recurring. Meanwhile, successive UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Belarus had consistently described a deeply oppressive environment for human rights in the country.

After several other opposition leaders were jailed or exiled, Svetlana G. Tikhanovskaya emerged as Mr Lukashenko’s main election rival in 2020. They included her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a blogger before he was jailed, was considered to be among the top opposition candidates. It was clear that Mr Lukashenko, even before the election, was in peril. Before the election, in the largest anti-government demonstrations in decades, tens of thousands of people took part in rallies to support Ms Tikhanovskaya. Whilst 33 Russians accused of being mercenaries sent to disrupt the election, were arrested by the authorities and Mr Lukashenko claimed other saboteurs were targeting Belarus.

On Sunday 9th August 2020 the Belarusian presidential election was held. On 4th August, early voting started and lasted until 8th August. For five years, the president was directly elected to serve. Incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected to office for a sixth term, with official results attributing 80% of the vote to him. With at least 60 per cent of the vote, opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya claimed to have won a decisive first-round victory and called on Lukashenko to start negotiations. In order to facilitate a transfer of power, her campaign subsequently formed the Coordination Council and stated that it was ready to organize ‘long-term protests’ against the official results.
All opposition candidates lodged appeals with the Central Election Commission calling for the invalidation of the results. Allegations of widespread electoral fraud marred the election. Many nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom, refused to accept the outcome of the election, as did the European Union, which imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials considered responsible for “violence, repression and electoral fraud.” The election results led to widespread protests in Belarus. In the midst of the protests, Tikhanovskaya was forced to leave Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko, declared a landslide victory in the presidential.

Speaking via video link, the opposition candidate in the Belarus election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, appealed to the Belarusian authorities to “immediately cease violence against peaceful citizens. We demand the immediate release of all political prisoners. We demand to allow entry and free movements to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus. Finally, we demand free and fair elections so the citizens of Belarus can freely choose their Government according to the laws of the country.” She insisted on the Opposition’s’ “willingness to talk with the authorities and look for peaceful rights-based solutions to the crisis” affecting the country. “Belarus needs fast and resolute decisions”, she said. “It’s very important to recognize that standing up for democratic principles and human rights is not interfering in internal affairs; it is a universal question of human dignity.”

However, in a resolution adopted by 574 votes in favour, 37 against with 82 abstentions on Thursday, the European Parliament rejects the official results of the “so-called presidential elections”, as these elections were conducted in a “flagrant violation of all internationally recognised standards”. Once the term of office of Alexander Lukashenko, the incumbent authoritarian leader, expires on 5 November, Parliament will no longer recognize him as the country’s president. Meanwhile, MEPs welcome the recently created Coordination Council in Belarus as an “interim representation of people demanding democratic change” open to all political and social stakeholders. They also reiterate the many calls for, under international supervision, new, free and fair elections to take place as soon as possible.

MEPs also call for EU sanctions against the group of persons responsible for falsifying the election results and for violent repression in Belarus, including President Lukashenko, and, in close coordination with international partners, call on the EU Member States in the Council to implement such restrictive measures without delay. MEPs also strongly condemn the mass arrests and ongoing violent crackdown on the country’s peaceful protesters, strike leaders and journalists, with many reports emerging from Belarusian detention centres and jails of ill-treatment, rape, and torture.
Despite the involvement of EU member states to resolve the issue, mass street protests are continuing in Belarus’s capital Minsk, following the inauguration of President Alexander Lukashenko at an unannounced ceremony on Wednesday. There were reports of beatings and detentions by police, and video footage showed water cannon being used.

By Jumana Jabeer

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