The president appears with his main rivals arrested or disabled while the EU regrets “worrying reports of irregularities”
MADRID, 8 (EUROPA PRESS)
Belarus celebrates its presidential elections this Sunday with Aleksander Lukashenko as the favorite to reach his sixth consecutive term, after a quarter of a century at the head of the country and after weeks of persecution against possible rivals, the protests derived therefrom and the requests of the community international, especially European, to have minimum democratic guarantees.
Two of Lukashenko’s strongest rivals were arrested in the run-up to the elections and a third potential candidate fled to Russia after receiving a warning that he too would be arrested soon, warnings to all opponents in an election that he will not count. with the international observation of the Organization for Development and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Although the OSCE has no observers on the ground, there will be international monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a group of former Soviet republics led by Russia, who have never denounced irregularities in the proceedings, given reports that they have scrambled the states of the European Union.
For example, Viktor Babariko, a former head of Belgazprombank and detained at the time on corruption charges, initially obtained the signatures needed to secure his candidacy until, in mid-last month, the Belarusian electoral commission rejected his request.
The decision to suspend Babariko degenerated into strong protests in the capital, Minsk, and in other cities, where protesters broke out in applause for the deposed candidate, considered one of the president’s main rivals.
Along with him, the co-chairman of the group ‘Tell the truth’ Andrei Dimitriev; the president of the Gramado social-democratic movement, Sergei Cherchen; former parliamentarian Anna Kanopatskaya; and Svetlana Tijanovskaya, currently the only four candidates in the race to challenge Lukashenko to the presidency.
The latter candidate also denounced pressure maneuvers after Belarusian authorities announced on Thursday a new case against her husband, opposition blogger Sergei Tijanovski, husband of presidential candidate Svetlana Tijanovskaya, for inciting violence.
Initially, Tijanovski, 41, planned to run for president, but was unable to deliver the necessary documentation due to his arrest, so his 38-year-old wife chose to do it in his place after gathering the necessary signatures.
Mikola Statkevich, another opposition leader, was arrested while on his way to a meeting to collect signatures for candidates, despite being banned from running for criminal record after spending several years in prison accused of instigating a series of riots after the 2010 elections.
Neither another major rival to the president, the former Belarusian ambassador to the United States and the former director of the Minsk High Tech Park, Valery Tsepkalo, who at the end of last month announced that he was leaving the country to temporarily settle in Moscow .
Tsepkalo told the Tut.by news portal that he made the decision to leave the country due to two recent incidents. “I have good friends in the security forces,” he said, explaining that he was warned that an arrest warrant had been issued against him.
At the same time, his children’s school warned him that prosecutors had requested a meeting with teachers and the principal to sign some papers, for which he suspects they intend to take custody of the minors.
Tsepkalo argued that the exhibition was due to a “political decision”. “If today there were free elections in Belarus, I would lose to any candidate,” he said, referring to Lukashenko, in power since 1994.
In a way, what Lukashenko promised at the end of June is being fulfilled, elections without incident: “We will never allow destabilization of the situation in our country”, he insisted during a meeting with the head of State Security, Valéry Vakulchik, after protests in Minsk after Babariko’s withdrawal.
THE EU CALLS FOR RESTRICTION AND FREEDOM
As things stand, European Union member states, Germany, France and Poland, issued a joint statement on Friday that strongly urged Belarus to guarantee free and fair presidential elections this weekend.
“We strongly support the Belarusian people’s right to exercise their fundamental freedoms, including electoral rights,” they said in the statement, expressing “great concern” about the events leading up to Sunday’s elections.
Germany, France and Poland expressed concern about the absence of an OSCE invitation before pointing out what they described as “disturbing reports of electoral irregularities during early voting”.
In this sense, it is important to mention that, although the face-to-face voting takes place on the 9th, the postal vote has been open since last August 4th. The same happened in the November 2019 parliamentary elections, in which an independent observer filmed a woman trying to shove a pile of votes into an ballot box in a polling station in the western city of Brest.
The head of the Central Electoral Commission (TsKV), Lidzia Yarmoshyna, considered Lukashenko’s right hand in conducting the elections – warned the observer for recording the incident on video.
“Belarus is an important neighbor of the European Union and an active member of the Eastern Partnership,” according to the statement. “We believe in building stronger ties between Belarus and its people and the European Union, based on respect for common democratic values,” concludes the note.