Mayhem in Minsk: On Belarus elections

Belarus is at the crossroads after a disputed election triggered protests and violence

August 13, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:28 am IST

Belarus has seen dramatic political developments over the past few days. First, the Election Commission announced that long-term President Alexander Lukashenko was the winner of Sunday’s election. His main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, rejected the results and called for a recount. Protests broke out in the capital, Minsk, which was met with a violent security crackdown. At least 2,000 people were detained and dozens injured. Then, as the country was slipping into chaos and anarchy, she fled to neighbouring Lithuania, saying she made “a very difficult decision”. But her campaign committee has said that it would continue to support the protests against the “election fraud”. This was the hardest fought election in Belarus, a former Soviet republic, since the USSR’s disintegration. There has been widespread anger against the government over a stagnant economy. Mr. Lukashenko, often touted as Europe’s last dictator, had cracked down on the Opposition even before the election. Ms. Tikhanovskaya entered the race after her husband and a popular YouTuber, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was to contest against Mr. Lukashenko, was detained and barred from contesting for allegedly inciting unrest. Throughout the campaigning and the election, the Opposition accused the government of intimidation, cracking down on journalists and activists, and prohibiting independent observers. All these raised doubts about the fairness of the election.

It is too early to say if Ms. Tikhanovskaya’s departure would remove the hurdles Mr. Lukashenko faces in extending his term further. If the protests questioning the legitimacy of his presidency continue, at a time of growing economic troubles, it could substantially weaken him. The crisis has already derailed his plans for a strategic realignment in Eastern Europe. In recent years, Belarus, a geopolitical ally of Russia with cultural links, has shown a willingness to work closer with the West. His bet was to raise the strategic profile of his landlocked country at a time when the contest for influence in Eastern Europe between Moscow and Washington was hotting up. But many western countries have condemned the handling of the election and the protests, and called for a peaceful settlement. Moscow immediately sensed an opportunity to cement ties with Belarus, which is an important transit route of Russian gas to Europe as well as a buffer between Russia and European powers. Mr. Lukashenko has nowhere to turn to other than Moscow. He has to decide whether he wants to extend his 26-year reign at any cost or ensure the formation of a legitimate government that could address the country’s vital problems. If he chooses the last, he has to rein in the police, reach out to the Opposition and offer talks to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.