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Presidential election in Belarus: Who is participating in the race?

The Belarusian Election Commission has registered five candidates for the presidential elections which will take place on August 9th.

July 15, 2020 - Maxim Rust Yahor Azarkevich - Articles and Commentary

Minsk. Photo: Uladzimir Kalada

The Belarusian presidential campaign is heading towards its last lap. We have already written about the uniqueness, importance and unusual nature of this year’s campaign. And, this campaign has not ceased to amaze – for many years, not so much has happened in Belarusian politics before the official start of the election campaign. Now “preventive” intimidation of society – according to the Viasna human rights centre – has seen around 700 people have being detained before the official registration of candidates.

The Belarusian power elite, concerned over the rise of the protest potential and public support for the alternative candidates, has applied a three-level process of “levelling” independent candidates. First, a standard approach of the authorities was used – the arrest of potentially dangerous rivals. Social activist and blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski was arrested at the end of May, and Viktar Babaryka was arrested in June. However, preventive detention had a different effect, and protest moods increased even more. Second, popular alternative candidates have not been recognised with all signatures in their support (Belarusian law requires the collection of a minimum of 100,000 signatures to be registered as a candidate). This was done in the case of Valery Tsepkalo. And third, law enforcement agencies started looking for irregularities in the property and tax declarations of candidates who could still be a threat to the authorities.

On July 14th the Belarusian Election Commission registered the official candidates for the presidential election, which will take place on August 9th. The five candidates are:

Alyaksandr Lukashenka – the incumbent president who has governed Belarus since 1994. Lukashenka “officially” collected the most signatures – almost 1,940,000;

Siarhei Cherachan – the chairman of the “Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada” party. 143,000 signatures have been declared valid for this candidate, despite that fact that he only confirmed submitting 106,500;

Andrey Dzmitryeu – a social activist and politician, co-chairman of the social organisation “Tell the Truth”. In 2010 and 2015, he was the chief of election committee staff of independent presidential candidates Uladzimir Niakliayeu and Tatsiana Karatkevich. In 2019, Dzmitryeu took part in the parliamentary elections. Nearly 107,000 signatures have been officially recognised for his candidacy;

Hanna Kanapatskaya – a former MP of the Belarusian parliament, one of the two representatives of the opposition in the parliament of the previous parliamentary term. Over 146,000 signatures were registered for this candidate, while Kanapatskaya previously claimed she submitted 110,000;

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya – the wife of blogger and activist Siarhei Tsikhanouski. According to many analysts, her candidacy remains the only one that can attract the greatest public support (and also – potential repression) in the upcoming presidential race. The number of recognised signatures in her support is almost 105,000.

Lukashenka’s major rivals who gained the highest public support and were called “candidates of hope” were not registered. Viktar Babaryka, the former chairman of the board of Belgazprombank, is currently in custody on charges of economic crimes and recognised as a political prisoner by Amnesty International. It should be noted that he collected a record number of signatures for his nomination among all the alternative candidates. From the submitted 367,000, the Election Commission recognised only 165,000. The official reason he was denied registration is the inconsistency in his income declaration and assistance of a foreign state in financing his campaign.

Valery Tsepkalo, the second “candidate of hope”, submitted almost 160,000 signatures, while the Election Commission recognised less than 80,000, which automatically excluded him from the presidential race. Both candidates intend to appeal the results in court.

No one doubts the official result of this year’s election. The winner will certainly be the same person it has been for the last many years. The question that remains, however, is whether support for unregistered candidates of hope will be transferred to Tsikhanouskaya or dispersed among other alternative candidates. The other question is how much the protest potential of Belarusian society will increase. Shortly after the announcement of the registration results, mass protests broke out in the country again, which were brutally suppressed by the militia. Perhaps the main question is what will happen to this huge, unprecedented social mobilisation that is unlikely to go anywhere after the election.

Maxim Rust is a political analyst and researcher of political elites in post-Soviet area. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Warsaw. He is also a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe.

Yahor Azarkevich is a freelance journalist and an MA student at the University of Glasgow and Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

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