Belarus elections: Belarusians vote amid opposition calls to boycott

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Voting was tightly controlled in Belarus on Sunday Parliamentary and Local Government Elections It is set to cement the steely rule of the country's authoritarian leader, despite calls for a boycott by the opposition, which dismissed the vote as a “senseless farce”.

President Alexander LukashenkoThe man who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly three decades and announced on Sunday that he will seek re-election next year, accused the West of trying to undermine his government and “destabilize” the 9.5 million people to vote. People.

Most of the candidates belong to the four officially registered parties: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Labor and Justice Party. All of those parties support Lukashenko's policies. About a dozen parties were denied registration last year.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Chikanuskaia, who is in exile in neighboring Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, urged voters to boycott the election.

“There is no one who can deliver real changes in the referendum because it has only allowed convenient puppets to participate in the regime,” Chikanusskaya said in a video statement. “We are calling for an involuntary boycott of this election to ignore this senseless farce.”

Sunday's vote was the first in Belarus since the controversial 2020 referendum that secured Lukashenko's sixth term in office.

objections It swept the country for months, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets. More than 35,000 people were arrested. Thousands were beaten in police custody, hundreds of independent media and non-governmental organizations were closed and outlawed.

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Lukashenko believes Grants and political support To escape protests from his main ally, Russia. In February 2022 he allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine.

Central elections are held Relentless oppression Difference of opinion. More than 1,400 political prisoners are in prison, including opposition leaders and renowned human rights lawyer Ales Bialiatsky, who won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

The opposition says early voting, which began on Tuesday, leaves ballot boxes unsecured for five days, providing fertile ground for vote manipulation.

Election officials said on Sunday that more than 40% of the country's electorate cast their ballots during the Tuesday-Saturday polls. Voter turnout was 43.64% at 9 a.m. on Sunday, an hour after voting formally opened, the Central Election Commission of Belarus said.

Vyasna Center for Human Rights reported that students, soldiers, teachers and other government employees were forced to participate in early voting.

“Officials are using all available means to secure the result they want – from broadcasting a television campaign to forcing voters to vote early,” said Vyasna representative Pavel Sabelka. “During the polls, detentions, arrests and searches take place.”

Lukashenko, speaking during a meeting with top Belarusian law enforcement officials on Tuesday, accused the West of plotting a coup d'état or forceful seizure of power in the country without providing evidence. He ordered the police to increase armed patrols across Belarus, declaring that “this is the most important element of ensuring law and order”.

After the referendum, Belarus is set to create a new state body – a 1,200-seat All-Belarusian Popular Assembly that includes high-ranking officials, local legislators, trade unionists, pro-government activists and others. It will have wide-ranging powers, including the power to consider constitutional amendments and the power to appoint electoral officers and judges.

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Lukashenko considered a few years ago whether to lead the new system after stepping down, but his calculus has apparently changed, and he announced on Sunday that he will run for president next year.

“Tell (opposition parties) that I will contest. The tougher the situation, the more actively they will disturb our society… They are putting more pressure on you, me and the society, and soon I will contest this election,” the strongman told reporters. The Belarusian capital, according to state media.

For the first time, the curtains were removed from the polling booths at polling stations and voters were prohibited from taking pictures of their ballot papers. During the 2020 election, activists encouraged voters to take photos of their ballots in an attempt to prevent authorities from manipulating votes in favor of Lukashenko.

Belarusian state television aired footage of Interior Ministry drills in which police arrested an alleged criminal who photographed a ballot and others who formed an artificial line outside a polling station.

Belarus for the first time refused To invite observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the elections. Belarus is a member of the OSCE, a top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, and its monitors have been international observers of Belarusian elections for decades.

Since 1995, not a single election in Belarus has been recognized as free and fair by the OSCE.

The OSCE said the decision not to allow the agency's monitors deprived the country of a “comprehensive assessment of the international system”.

“The human rights situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate as those who speak out or stand up for the human rights of others are prosecuted, persecuted and often prosecuted,” it said in a statement.

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Observers noted that officials did not try to pretend the vote was democratic.

“The election gives the government an opportunity to conduct a system test and see if it works after massive protests and the severe shock of the last presidential election,” said Artyom Sraibman, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “Parliament will be sterile after the opposition and all alternative voices are barred from campaigning. It is important that the authorities erase any memory of the protests.

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