Belarusians vote in tightly controlled election amid boycott call

    WORLD  25 February 2024 - 17:56

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has relied on subsidies and political support from his main ally, Russia, to survive the protests that followed his fraudulent re-election in 2020.

    Polls opened on February 25 in Belarus' tightly controlled parliamentary and local elections that are set to cement the steely rule of the country's authoritarian leader, despite calls for a boycott from the opposition, which dismissed the balloting as a “senseless farce”, according to Euronews.

    President Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for nearly three decades and on February 25 announced that he will run for the presidency again next year, accuses the West of trying to use the vote to undermine his government and “destabilise” the nation of 9.5 million people.

    Most candidates belong to the four officially registered parties: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labour and Justice. Those parties all support Lukashenko’s policies. About a dozen other parties were denied registration last year.

    Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in neighbouring Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, urged voters to boycott the elections.

    “There are no people on the ballot who would offer real changes because the regime only has allowed puppets convenient for it to take part,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement. “We are calling to boycott this senseless farce, to ignore this election without choice.”

    Crackdown on dissent preceded election

    February 25 balloting is the first election in Belarus since the contentious 2020 vote that handed Lukashenko his sixth term in office and triggered an unprecedented wave of mass demonstrations.

    Protests swept the country for months, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets. 

    Lukashenko has relied on subsidies and political support from his main ally, Russia, to survive the protests. He allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

    The election takes place amid a relentless crackdown on dissent. Over 1,400 political prisoners remain behind bars, including leaders of opposition parties and renowned human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.

    Election officials said that over 40 per cent of the country’s voters cast ballots during early voting, from February 20 to February 24. Turnout stood at 43.64 per cent by 9:00 (GMT+3) on February 25, an hour after polls formally opened, according to the Belarusian Central Election Commission.

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