Election in Belarus: end of the Lukashenko era?

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus's president of 26 years, is in trouble in the run-up to the presidential election on August 9. Thousands of people took to the streets in support of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on the weekend. Tikhanovskaya entered the race for the presidency in place of her husband, who is in prison. The wives of other candidates whose husbands were not admitted as candidates followed suit. Observers see change coming to the country.

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newsru.com (RU) /

The revolution is unstoppable

Writing in newsru.com, journalist Alexei Melnikov believes the country is headed for a change of regime:

“This is the beginning of the end for Lukashenko. He will lose on August 9, and not even vote rigging is going to stop that. Because Belarus is for Tikhanovskaya and against the crazy, raspy-voiced leader. Hundreds of thousands will take to the streets if Lukashenko tries to steal the victory. Then he'll be powerless, his subordinates will betray him. They're not going to start bludgeoning or shooting at the masses, and he'll have to go. ... He's in a panic. Apart from the fickle police and the secret service, he has nothing. And even them he doesn't trust - and they are losing their faith in him too. ... We have a revolutionary situation in Belarus.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Opposition won't take electoral fraud sitting down

The EU should prepare for political turbulence in Belarus after the election, the Financial Times advises:

“Ms Tikhanovskaya's team are intent on harnessing smartphones and social media to highlight electoral abuses. If these are extensive, post-election demonstrations might be bigger than those seen before - with unpredictable consequences. Neither Mr Lukashenko nor Mr Putin are likely to allow a shift in power to someone they do not control. In case of a long hot August in Belarus, EU countries should already be thinking through their possible response.”

nv.ua (UA) /

Future relationship with Russia is completely open

The protests against Lukashenko are not necessarily aimed at Russia's considerable influence in Belarus, writes filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, himself once a political prisoner in Russia, in nv.ua:

“The question is whether the people of Belarus want to join the Ukrainian fight against the aggressive influence of Russia, or if they just want to be friends again under different conditions. The position of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Crimea, which literally had to be pulled out of her mouth with pliers, speaks more for the latter. But what she doesn't understand is that after the fall of the Lukashenko regime, Putin not only wants to annex the Vitebsk Region but the entire Republic of Belarus. The mercenaries of the Wagner Group private military contracting agency, who were supposedly only in transit, are a first warning sign.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

The young middle class is not afraid

Yuri Panchenko, editor at Ukrayinska Pravda, and Belarusian journalist Tetyana Kalynovska explain who is the driving force behind the protests:

“Whereas until now opposing the government was primarily the business of the educated classes, the middle class is now the backbone of the protests. These are people from small businesses, the ones who are the most affected by the pandemic and whom the state refuses to help. The economic situation has changed considerably since the last major protests. A new generation of voters no longer sees their future in the public sector. More than half of Minsk's residents now work in the private sector. And there, you don't have to fear for your job after being arrested at a demonstration.”

tut.by (BY) /

We can no longer lose

In an interview with tut.by, Sergei Chalyi of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies describes a new mood in the ranks of the opposition:

“One of the reasons why we lost all the previous elections was because we didn't feel we could win. But this time I don't have the feeling that we're going to lose. Victory can be stolen from us, but losing is actually impossible. August 10 will not be the end of things by a long shot. ... This vote isn't about choosing a president, it's about choosing our values. We must make a choice between the two sections of a divided society. ... Whoever is elected president will be forced to answer the question of how to deal with our divided country.”

Svaboda (BY) /

Fair elections instead of a bloodbath

Commenting in Svaboda, Belarusian laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature Svetlana Alexievich pins her hopes on opposition candidate Viktar Babaryka:

“He is a very honest man. Besides, I have the impression that he is a bit romantic, because he has no experience in this dirty political struggle. In a conversation between Viktor Dmitrievich Babaryka and myself, we discussed this and came to the conclusion that it is those in power today that are making this a dirty struggle. ... I think that Lukashenko's time is over. ... People no longer want to live in a country where there is no choice. We must not allow bloodshed in this country. No one wants blood. We must fight for fair elections with all our strength.”

nv.ua (UA) /

Slippers to put things in order

The Belarusians have had enough of their "moustached cockroach", as they call Alexander Lukashenko, Maxim Yakovlev, director of the School for Politicy Analysis at Kiev University writes in NV:

“Recent events in Belarus clearly show that our neighbours' patience has finally run out. ... An interesting aspect is the format of the protests, with slippers as their symbol. After all, a moustached cockroach can be crushed with a slipper. ... Anyone following the active election campaign in Belarus will get the impression that Mr Lukashenko can feel the unpredictability of what is currently happening in the country.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

A critical mass is forming

Gazeta Wyborcza also notes a change in the neighbouring country:

“Since the election campaign started at the beginning of May, Belarusian society has changed visibly from day to day, become more and more united and more 'bourgeois'. ... The usual collection of signatures under the names of alternative presidential candidates - who are either arrested or persecuted - has led to the formation of kilometre-long queues stretching across entire cities. ... The Internet is full of petitions demanding the release of political prisoners. Famous athletes, state television journalists, musicians and actors are calling for free elections. They are ashamed of the propaganda in which they have been involved.”

Lrt (LT) /

Opposition remains divided

Without a shared vision the violent demonstrations won't lead to any tangible result, writes political theorist Gintautas Mažeikis in Lrt:

“'We are simply tired' - these are not words of hope, but of failure. ... Nevertheless this is how the overwhelming majority of Belarusians feel - who still can't be thought of as citizens or a nation as such. They have yet to develop in one. But for that you need a common spirit and song, an idea and dignity, a vision and sense of respect, independently of Moscow. And so far no one has offered them that vision, that feeling of respect and that freedom.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Proof of great courage

Rzeczpospolita admires the citizens for keeping up their resistance despite the expected harsh reaction:

“The Belarusians did not lack courage when Lukashenko's main rival Viktar Babaryka was arrested on Thursday. Not only Babaryka, but also his son Eduard ended up behind bars. Human chains several kilometres long were organised not only in the capital, but also in many other cities in a show of solidarity. Lukashenko endured it for just one night. On Friday hundreds of riot police appeared on the streets of Minsk. The people were literally thrown into armoured trucks.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Politics instead of travel abroad

Radio Kommersant FM argues that setting 8 August as the election date may have been a mistake on the part of the state:

“The official media are not publishing polls - which suggests that the approval ratings of the incumbent president are dropping rapidly. ... The timing has also proved unfortunate: At first August seemed like an ideal month for an election. Usually there is no opposition to the Batka [the little father]. The more affluent are on holiday abroad and the less affluent are doing seasonal work in Russia or Poland. But the pandemic has put a stop to all that. The Belarusians are effectively locked up in their own state - all alone with their president and the ballot box.”

Lietuvos rytas (LT) /

The West is flummoxed

The protests also reveal the West's incompetence in dealing with Minsk, Lietuvos rytas sighs:

“The protests against Lukashenko are increasingly threatening to turn into a real revolution, which the regime will then drown in blood. And maybe it will drown itself as well. ... Vilnius and other capitals on both sides of the Atlantic are looking on in bewilderment. Only recently they had plunged into a new friendship with Lukashenko, accompanied by claims that he was the key guarantor of his country's 'sovereignty'. ... Will the current situation in Belarus make the West (and Lithuania) at least think about adopting an effective policy towards the East? Or will they limit themselves to voicing concern and hoping that Lukashenko will put out the blaze again, until a new, possibly even bigger, fire starts?”