Election in Belarus: is this the end for Lukashenko?

Presidential elections will be held in Belarus on Sunday - but this time the usual election victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, is more uncertain than ever. The opposition has rallied around the candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race at short notice to replace her imprisoned husband. But not all commentators are convinced that she can win.

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Radio Racyja (BY) /

Don't rejoice too soon!

Author Palina Sciepanenka warns that people shouldn't get too excited about a change of government in a blog post on Radio Raciya:

“Euphoria is the Achilles' heel of the new opposition because its performance may be much weaker than expected. This would cause great disappointment and many sad consequences. And the Kremlin would have a weakened Lukashenko who is willing to do its bidding. ... What is now happening in Belarus is reminiscent of the 2011 protests in Moscow, with all the premature euphoria and self-delusion of the opposition. Lukashenko could well leave Tikhanovskaya trailing behind on August 9 - even if he only secures 36 to 37 percent of the vote but more than the opposition. ... Tikhanovskaya, on the other hand, needs well over 50 percent to actually win, preferably 60 percent. Only then will the process be irreversible, no matter what those in power do.”

Gordonua.com (UA) /

The challengers' trump cards

Publicist Dmytry Lytvyn explains on Gordonua.com why the representatives of the opposition are eliciting such a positive response among the people:

“They're part of the system and don't scare most people in Belarus. Not so long ago it was mainly nationalist democrats who were challenging Lukashenko, now suddenly it's people who are practically 'Lukashenko 2.0s', namely Babariko or Zepkalo, who aren't going to scare off pensioners with their rhetoric, an overly-politicised image or a dissident's biography. ... Certainly, Belarusian sovereignty is the key value for Lukashenko's competitors. But on this question they aren't leaning too far out of the window and remain firmly within a consensual framework. Meaning that they believe that cooperation with Russia, Europe and China is necessary. Nobody wants an ideological break with the Kremlin.”

Kommersant (RU) /

This time everything is different

Kommersant lists reasons why this election is not like previous ones:

“First, there has been an unexpected consolidation of the opposition, which for the first time in many years has been able to agree on a common approach and candidate. Secondly, there are far more people attending Tikhanovskaya's election rallies. And she is clearly able to attract more than just the symbolic percentages of any political failure, which is how the presidential administration would like to see the situation. The most exciting thing, however, is that to this day no sociologist or expert in Minsk or Moscow has been able to define the real levels of support for Lukashenko - because there are no polls.”

newsru.com (RU) /

Luckily not a digital dictatorship

The dictator's lethargy on the technology front is giving the opposition an advantage, writes journalist Maxim Gorjunov in a Facebook post republished by newsru.com:

“If he had started inviting diabolical IT specialists to install a surveillance state in the early 2000s, the Belarusians would now be facing an electronic monster that could pick up on their feelings and thoughts before they did. ... Thank God Lukashenko likes beets, beetroot and mooing cows at sunrise. Even in 2020 his regime continues to rely on print propaganda, television and police truncheons. ... The opposition faces a dictatorship like that of Brezhnev, and not one like that of Xi Jinping.”

Delfi (LV) /

Not much help to be expected from Latvia

The Belarusian opposition has called on the Latvians to help it overcome the dictatorship. Delfi fears that not much will come of this:

“In human terms the appeal is understandable. But as soon as we start thinking about concrete support, nothing comes to mind and confusion reigns. How can we help you? Maybe we should stop consuming Belarusian products? Sounds pretty naive, because apart from relatively cheap vodka there's not much to speak of from Belarus in our supermarkets. ... What's more, the Latvians' attitude to the situation on the other side of the border is not unanimous - many praise Lukashenko for having established order in the country, the good vodka and the well-maintained roads.”

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) /

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.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (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) /

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?”