World

Fate of Europe’s last dictator hangs in balance

Aug 26 2020 By Wikye
Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus is an east European country under the grip of an influential president for the past 26 years. And Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is dubbed Europes’s last dictator.

Belarus attained full independence in 1991. After this, its first presidential election took place three years later in 1994. Lukashenko rose to power as the country’s first president. Ever since 1994, he has maintained his firm grip on the nation to date. His authoritarian style of governance also popularised him as Europe’s last dictator.

In 2020, Lukashenko faces unprecedented opposition with protests emerging across the country. Earlier this month, the people of Belarus cast the ballot for the presidency on August 9. Lukashenko won the election for the sixth term, with 80.23% of the vote. But, hundreds of thousands of people took to streets denouncing the election result and calling for the ouster of Lukashenko.

Opposition leader rallying crowds

Protesters gathering in Minsk
Protesters gathering in Minsk

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition candidate in the 2020 presidential election, attracted large crowds as she campaigned for the vote. She had predicted that Lukashenko would rig the election to secure his win.

Tens of thousands have rallied in support of Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring country Lithuania, fearing persecution. Tikhanovskaya has become the embodiment of hope for Belarusians. They demand re-election, which Lukashenko rejected. Subsequently, the protests have intensified and strengthened. Since the demonstrations, Belarusian President Lukashenko is under pressure to address the concerns of the people. Authorities have also made mass arrests.

Moreover, Tikhanovsakya is a political novice and a surprise candidate. Her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, initially planned on running for office. She only picked up the mantle after authorities put Sergei behind bars.

Free and fair elections?

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Controversy surrounds elections in Belarus in terms of being free and fair. Election watchdogs and European neighbours have questioned the legitimacy of votes in the country. Strongman Lukashenko might have adjusted the election machinery to benefit him during his 26 years of rule. Hence, he keeps winning elections with landslide victories. Reportedly, no election since 1994 has met international standards of transparency and fairness.

In defence of the Belarusian election system, election observers are allowed to monitor the votes. But this too isn’t a routine affair as authorities can revoke permission to monitor polls at any time or year. This year not a single election monitor observed the presidential vote.

Protesters rally holding placards

Culture of silencing opponents, dissidents

Rally in belarus

Authorities tend to pursue a crackdown on potential candidates before the election. Often such crackdowns result in the denying candidacy bid for potential candidates. Authorities charge candidates on various pretexts such as corruption and collusion with foreign governments, among others.

This week, several opposition activists were presented in court for hearings. A court also sentenced one of the opposition activists to 10-day jail. Undue detention of protest leaders is also common for authorities in Belarus.

Sometimes the candidates go missing, never to be accounted. Other times, they are assassinated or found dead in various circumstances. Such a culture of silencing opponents is not new in global politics. But it is more evident in a country like Belarus, where one man has too much sway over the national entities.

Lukashenko’s future up in the air

Three weeks after the election, protesters show no sign of slowing or backing down. The ongoing demonstrations are one of the largest gatherings in the country since its establishment. The public disapproval has forced several European Union nations to issue support for protesters and the opposition.

Lukashenko largely relies on strong ally Russia to sail past this stormy period in his political career. Though Russia has extended support to the Belarusian president time and again, there is no guarantee the same support would continue. Meanwhile, support rallies for Belarusians in neighbouring countries are also ratcheting pressure on Lukashenko to step down.

Chances look bleak for the strongman to escape this unprecedented wave of opposition to his over two decades of rule. Much is to unfold concerning the fate of the strongman Belarusian president as international polity takes shape.

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