2020 Presidential Election in Belarus: Social Tensions Arise
Translated by Natacha Perrin, proofread by Marine El Hajji
With the presidential election coming soon, social tensions are rising in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, who has been president for 26 years, is running for office again. The population, tired of years and years of repression, is trying to change its political future.
This summer, on August 9th, 2020, the Belarussian people will go to the polls. Unsurprisingly, the current President, Alexander Lukashenko, is running for the 6th time, with his mandate having begun in 1994. The population has been suffering the same suppression for 26 years. This year, and in spite of the previous polemics, the people are “rising” for the first time in the country’s history. To be able to run for office, one has to get 100,000 signatures. Consequently, hundred of citizens’ lines have appeared in the capital and in other cities to sign for the candidacy of opponents despite the forces of law and order’s repression.
The country’s future is uncertain. Unemployment rates have increased, people’s impoverishment, censorship…. Belarussian citizens cannot stand this anymore. According to political specialist Valeri Karbalevitch, the population is waking up. Apparently, the President does not realize that he has lost the information monopoly because of social media and new media’s development that his opponents know better than he does. Recently, some of his opponents got arrested. For example, Nikolaï Statkévitch on May 24th, and only five days after, Sergei Tikhanovski, a famous blogger who tried to get into politics. It has triggered controversy. The blogger was trying to collect signatures for his wife, since he had been prevented from running for president. During the last weekend of May, forces of law and order arrested and incarcerated about fifty persons among support groups for the opposition. It is an unprecedented movement in the country. The political specialist describes it as “a mass movement against the President”.
The Belarussian people have suffered police repression and have been subjected to censorship for years. The day before Sergei Tikhanovski’s arrest, he affirmed in the Russian daily paper Kommersant: “The aim of my action is to pacifically obtain free and honest elections for a democratic renewal of the power […] We cannot stay quiet and work like slaves. The population is fed up and I am its voice”.
Do Belarussian elections rhyme with freedom of speech?
For years, Belarussian citizen have been living repressed. The government controls a large majority of the media, and the few who dare to be independent are being censored, imprisoned, or forced into exile. Violence against journalists, or murders even, are not rare in the country. Belarus is one of the lowest ranking countries of the Reporters Without Borders’ ranking: rank 153rd out of 180. In September 2010, during the presidential election, the death of a journalist from the opposition has opened up debate in the country.
President Lukashenko wants absolute control over his population. To achieve this, he monitors the population through the press, by feeding it information that suits him. In 2017, he set up a tax against “social parasites”, that is anyone who works less than 6 months per year. This led to a climate of social tension in Belarus. Belarussian citizens took to the streets to protest. The journalists covering the event were attacked and imprisoned for “hooliganism” and “attending unauthorized gatherings”. Johann Bihr, Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia head of office, denounces: “this brutal and systematic harassment from the police constitutes an obvious violation of the freedom of the press and Belarussian citizens’ right to information”.
Une équipe de la télévision allemande ARD a été arrêtée vendredi à Minsk… Le président biélorusse #Loukachenko est aujourd'hui à Vienne. Son homologue autrichien Alexander @vanderbellen doit lui rappeler que la liberté d'informer n'est pas négociable ! https://t.co/Fuzk0Iydhy pic.twitter.com/bYXdeePE8a
— RSF en français (@RSF_fr) November 12, 2019
Translation of the tweet from Reporters Without Borders: A Germain television team for ARD has been arrested in Minsk…. Belarussian President #Lukashenko is in Vienna today. His Austrian counterpart Alexander @vanderbellen must remind him that freedom of information is not debatable.
In 2012, a law was promulgated to supervise Internet connection, storing Internet users’ data and prohibiting access to foreign websites. So, control over the population has been gradually diversifying throughout the years.
Belarus: “Europe’s last dictatorship”
This is how the country is commonly called. As it is has been ruled by the same man for 26 years, the government’s opponents have to flee the country to be able to speak up. Belarus is the subject of a number of criticisms levelled by several international organizations protecting human rights, as well as both the European Union and the United States of America. For the past years, the opposition has increased in scope and is becoming more and more popular. At the same time, the President’s reputation is getting tarnished. Recently, during a factory visit, one of his comments caused controversy within the country: “The Belarussian Constitution is not made for a woman” reports the daily paper Kommersant.
Alexander Lukashenko, statesman, is being threatened by the opposition. Could the 2020 presidential election mean the end of his mandate? Because of the pandemic, the country’s future does not seem to be moving forward. The ever-increasing unemployment rate, the population’s impoverishment or the ongoing police violence is not the future wanted by the Belarussian citizens.
— Belsat in English (@Belsat_Eng) June 1, 2020
The pursuance of the presidential mandate is threatened. But electoral fraud is very common in the country. According to Sergei Tikhanovski, if Alexander Lukashenko wins the election “through falsification of ballots or through police repression, the vast majority of the population will not tolerate it”. The European Union and the United States criticize the country’s management for rigged elections and the quelling of the opposition. Last year, during the parliamentary election of 2019, the opposition has been totally excluded from the Parliament, and that is only one example. 110 seats were shifted for pro-government people to move in.
The future is uncertain for Belarussian citizens who try to get free by any and all means. Free souls are forced into exile to survive. This modern “dictatorship” does not belong in this century. The Belarussian people are doing their best to free themselves, and this election seems like the perfect opportunity.