What's Happening In Belarus?
Europe's last dictator, President Lukashenko took office in 1994 amid the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Alexander Lukashenko is obsessed with preserving the aesthetics and elements most convenient to himself of Soviet communism.
While Belarus is considered a democracy by some, it is a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament. It has all powers centered on the president. Alexander Lukashenko was declared president with 76 percent of the vote in 2001, 83 percent in 2006, 80 percent in 2010, and 83 percent in 2015. Belarus also kept the soviet era secret police and intelligence apparatus the KGB. The KGB is used to spy on dissidents and arrest Lukashenko's enemies. All manufacturing and industry are strictly under state control, the main media channels are controlled by the government and all education is dictated by the regime. Alexander Lukashenko is considered delusional and out of touch by critics international and in Belarus. Lukashenko claims to be a tough nationalist and a guarantor of stability despite being the cause behind recent instability and acting as a puppet for the Russian state.
During Belarus’s August 9 presidential election, a strong campaign to oust Lukashenko took place and people voted for opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in droves. Before the 2020 election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was an English teacher and human rights defender. She thrust herself into politics after her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, YouTuber, blogger, and 2020 presidential candidate was arrested in May 2020. Lukashenko eliminated his main rivals by jailing the banker Viktor Babaryko and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who might have reached a broad audience. Viktor Babaryko, a banker was initially seen as Lukashenko's strongest rival in the election but was barred from running and jailed in July. Tsikhanouskaya stepped in the place of her husband Sergi and ran as an independent candidate with a platform centering on human rights and democracy.
Tsikhanouskaya vowed to free all political prisoners in Belarus, introduce democratic reforms to the country, and move away from the union treaty with Russia, which is viewed as an infringement on the country's sovereignty. She has also pledged to set a referendum on returning to the original draft of the 1994 Belarusian constitution, reinstating a limit of two terms for the president. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya received the majority of votes and won the election according to some reports, however, the Lukashenko regime intervened and carried out electoral fraud. Election workers nationwide reported that they saw ballot fraud or were pressured to falsify results in favor of Lukashenko. Independent monitors observing the election said in a report that they received complaints about violations, irregularities and instances of some form of vote-rigging from at least 24% of the country’s 5,767 precincts. Leaked audio recordings showed how poll workers were told by officials to falsify the results in favor of Lukashenko by swapping the numbers for Lukashenko and Tsikhanouskaya. Lukashenko claimed to have received 80% of the vote in Belarus, ignoring the outright repression of the opposition candidates, mass arrests of dissidents, and ballot irregularities.
On Aug. 16, an estimated over 200,000 people marched nationwide to demand Lukashenko’s resignation – the largest gathering in Belarus’s history. The opposition protests have been fuelled by complaints about widespread organized crime in government and poverty, a lack of opportunities, and low pay. Dissatisfaction was compounded by the coronavirus crisis. Weeks of anti-dictatorship demonstrations since the fraudulent election have seen tens of thousands of protesters on the streets in cities across Belarus calling for democracy.
Thousands of pro-democracy supporters have been severely beaten up, arrested, sexually abused, and tortured by police during months of crackdowns by the dictatorship. Many of Tsikhanouskaya's supporters and allies have been arrested, on the charge of making public calls to harm the country's security, or forced into exile after receiving threats from the authorities. Alexander Lukashenko authorized political murders in Germany, according to a leaked recording of his former spy-chief. Leaked audio files and other testimony corroborated the reports of widespread torture, beatings, rape by Lukashenko's forces in his attempt to hold on to power. Lukashenko refuses to relinquish control of Belarus. He calls his opponents “fascists” and “murderers,” blames protests on foreign spies, and puts on shows of power, by holding mock rallies.
Russia has promised to protect Lukashenko's regime Belarus from external military threats and warned foreign powers not to interfere with the dictatorship. People across Belarus continue to demand the release of all political prisoners and a free and fair re-run of the election. They call for democracy and the fall of the regime.