Belarus strongman Lukashenko wins re-election by landslide, election commission says

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo © Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters

Long-serving Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term with 80.23 percent of the vote, the central electoral commission said Monday, after police cracked down on opposition protesters.

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Central electoral commission chief Lidia Yermoshina said in televised comments that the strongman’s main challenger Svetlana Tikhanouskaya won 9.9 percent, citing a preliminary count.

The other three candidates each won less than two percent, Yermoshina said.

The announcement came after police broke up crowds of protesters with stun grenades and rubber bullets in Minsk and other cities on Sunday evening after an exit poll showed Lukashenko winning an overwhelming victory.

Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother, former English teacher and political novice, galvanised the opposition during the election campaign and attracted tens of thousands of supporters to her rallies, some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

At least one person was killed after being knocked over by a police van and dozens were injured in the clashes that began after polling stations closed on Sunday, a representative of the rights group Spring 96 told Reuters.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, but faces the biggest challenge in years to keep his grip on power with some voters believing strongly that it’s time he stood down.

He has cast himself as a guarantor of stability but has battled a wave of anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.

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Tikhanouskaya entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.

 

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995.

A severe crackdown on protests could hurt Lukashenko’s attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday congratulated his counterpart on his re-election. The Kremlin said Putin had sent Alexander Lukashenko a congratulatory telegram expressing hope for “the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas”.

Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people were detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.

After casting his vote on Sunday, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as “fake news or far-fetched accusations”.

Neighbouring Poland on Monday called for an emergency European Union summit on the situation in Belarus after the overnight clashes in Minsk.

“The authorities have used force against their citizens, who are demanding change in the country. We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)

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