From Vedomosti, Aug. 10, 2020, p. 1. Condensed text:
Incumbent Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko won his sixth presidential election, according to an exit poll conducted by the proregime Youth Laboratory of Sociological Research. He got 79.9% of the vote. His main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, received 6.8%, according to the exit poll. At the same time, Belarussian Central Electoral Commission (CEC) head Lidia Yermoshina said that according to voting results from five out of the country’s seven regions (except Minsk and Minsk Province, and Brest Province), Lukashenko got 82.08% while Tikhanovskaya received 6.98%.
Tikhanovskaya became the united opposition candidate in July, after one potentially popular contender – former Belgazprombank CEO Viktor Babariko – was arrested on charges of financial fraud [see Vol. 72, No. 25, pp. 12‑13]. Another opposition candidate, former head of [Minsk’s] Hi-Tech Park Valery Tsepkalo, left the country. The signatures submitted [for their campaign registration] were not deemed genuine by the CEC. Another potential Lukashenko rival, Tikhanovskaya’s husband Sergei, was arrested in May on charges of plotting mass unrest [see Vol. 72, No. 23, pp. 17‑18].
By the time election day rolled around on Aug. 9, early voting in Belarus had been going on for four days. According to the Belarussian CEC’s information, 42% of voters had already cast their ballots by the time polls opened on Sunday [Aug. 9]. Turnout at polling stations in Minsk and large cities was high; there were also long lines at Belarussian embassies abroad, including in Moscow. Yermoshina stated that opposition Telegram channels were to blame for the long lines, since they encouraged people to “stay in the voting booth for a half hour” (as quoted by Belta). By late afternoon, Yermoshina reported that some polling places were running low on ballots and not everyone would be able to vote. “The fact that half the electorate voted early is a classic example of using administrative clout and organizing a controlled vote,” says political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko.
According to Netblocks.org, as early as the morning of Aug. 9, access to social networks and opposition [online resources] fell drastically in Belarus (in some cases, there was no access at all). This included the Golos [voter rights movement ballot-counting] platform, which encouraged people to photograph their filled-out ballots and submit the pictures for an alternative vote count. When asked by RIA Novosti for the reasons behind the problems with Internet access, a representative of the Belarussian Ministry of Communications and Informatization stated that Sunday is a holiday and the issue will be addressed later. . . .
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not monitor the election. A small number of Russian observers arrived as part of a CIS monitoring group. The Belarussian authorities tried to prevent foreign journalists from coming to Belarus, while three journalists from Russia’s Dozhd [Rain] TV channel who did not have accreditation were detained during the day in Minsk (the Belarussian Foreign Ministry said they would be expelled from the country). RT television stated that two freelance reporters working for the channel’s affiliate, Ruptly, were also detained in Minsk.
By all indications, the Internet blocking is the work of the authorities, believes a former member of the Russian intelligence services. Moreover, judging by available online videos, the authorities are preparing for mass [protest] rallies: The plan is to put up barricades near administrative buildings in downtown Minsk, arrange for transportation of detained protesters, and set up road blocks around Minsk to control who is going in and out. At the same time, there is no reason to believe that the regime is prepared to use lethal weapons and Army equipment against protesters, believes [the source]. Most likely, only nonlethal means will be used, [the source says]. . . .
According to Minchenko, Lukashenko’s advisers initially underestimated the extent of protest sentiment, which is why opposition candidates were initially allowed to participate in the campaign. “When signature collection began, the number of people who gave their signatures in support of Babariko, Tsepkalo and Tikhanovsky probably made quite an impression on the Belarussian authorities, so they decided to err on the side of caution,” says Minchenko. Moreover, someone probably convinced Lukashenko that Babariko was the candidate of Gazprom and Russia, which is perhaps why he was singled out for the arrest, the expert believes. “They started to get worried that his campaign would get some significant resources and create problems. Meanwhile, initially, [the Belarussian authorities] seriously considered allowing Babariko to run – as far as I know, one group within Lukashenko’s inner circle thought he would make a convenient sparring partner for Lukashenko. But in the end, the party of caution won,” says the political analyst. In his opinion, Tikhanovskaya was allowed to run because she is a woman without any political experience: “In my opinion, this was a huge mistake by Lukashenko. I am certain that either Babariko or Tsepkalo would have been more acceptable [opposition] candidates for Lukashenko. No one expects any ideas from Tikhanovskaya – she is simply a symbol of the protest.” Minchenko considers Tikhanovskaya’s campaign as very PR-savvy. Conversely, in his opinion, Lukashenko just ran his worst presidential campaign ever. . . . According to Andrei Skriba from the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics, Lukashenko “won’t win, but will announce his victory via the CEC.” This election has split Belarussian society, and after his victory is announced, mistrust of Lukashenko will only grow. Moreover, Skriba believes that this split is exacerbated by Belarus’s tough economic situation. . . .