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Belarus on the verge of elections

Promote Ukraine usually covers topics such as Ukraine’s European ambitions, its relationship with the West and the difficult dialogue between Ukraine and Russia. However, due to the importance of the presidential elections in neighbouring Belarus on 9 August 2020, we decided to launch a series of publications dedicated to these elections and their potential consequences for Ukraine. Currently, four candidates are running against the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has stayed in power for 26 years. The questions now is whether any of these candidates pose a threat to Lukashenko’s stay in power.

A very important development in regard to these elections was the refusal of the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) to register prominent opposition figures as potential presidential candidates on the 14th of July. It is important to note that the current elections are different from all the previous ones, particularly because of the addition of new alternative candidates that have enough support to provide serious opposition to Lukashenko’s rule, which lasted for more than a quarter of a century. These candidates are Viktor Babariko, Valery Tsepkalo and Sergey Tikhanovsky.

Viktor Babariko is the former head of Belgazprombank, who has been accused of receiving illegal campaign funding from Russia [1]. Valery Tsepkalo is a former Lukashenko administration official who once served as the Belarusian ambassador to the United States; yet, more recently he headed the Belarusian Hi-Tech Park, one of the largest IT clusters in Central and Eastern Europe. Lastly, Sergey Tikhanovsky is a prominent blogger with a YouTube channel named ‘A Country For Life’, wherein his rise to fame as an opposition figure has often been paralleled with the rise of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky [2].

Consequently, the emergence of these opposition candidates was unprecedented and resuscitated a sort of interest from the Belarusian public towards these elections and their potential to provide an alternative to Lukashenko’s long rule. However, the decision of the CEC on the 14th of July to deny Babariko and Tsepkalo the opportunity to participate in the elections, as well as the prior jailing of Tikhanovsky, has begun to reverse any hopes the populace had of change, spurring mass protests in the centre of Minsk and eliciting concern from the European Union about the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Belarusian citizens.

Yet, despite the barring and the jailing of these prominent figures, it is still too early to dismiss the relevancy of other candidates who are eligible to be elected on the 9th of August. Currently, four alternative candidates are running against Lukashenko in a bid to end his stay in power. These candidates include Andrei Dmitriev, Hanna Kanapatskaya, Sergey Cherechen, and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Andrei Dmitriev is the co-chairman of the ‘Tell the Truth’ movement, which, as the name suggests, is a campaign that implores the Belarusian authorities to tell the truth to the Belarusian people; as well as being the head of the election campaign of the 2015 presidential candidate Tatyana Korotkevich. Hanna Kanapatskaya is a former parliamentary deputy and a former lawyer, previously elected to the Belarusian National Assembly as one of the only two opposition candidates. Hanna was brought to administrative responsibility for an act of solidarity with political prisoners. Sergey Cherechen is the head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the head of the investment-consulting firm C58 Technologies. Lastly, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is the wife of the prominent opposition figure – Sergey Tikhanovsky – who registered herself as a candidate in his stead after Tikhanovsky’s arrest on the 29th of May.

[1] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/belarus-presidential-vote-democratic-breakthrough/

[2] https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/12/belarus-presidential-election-will-the-lights-go-out-on-lukashenko-in-2020

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