Belarus votes in the parliamentary elections, the opposition calls for a boycott

The elections are being held in the midst of a fierce confrontation with those who do not think the same as the authorities. More than 1.400 political prisoners are behind bars, including opposition party leaders and renowned human rights activist Ales Bjelicki, who won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

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Illustration, Photo: Shutterstock
Illustration, Photo: Shutterstock
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Belarusians are voting today in tightly controlled parliamentary and local elections that are likely to cement the country's authoritarian leader's rule, despite calls for a boycott by the opposition, who dismissed the vote as a "senseless farce".

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly 30 years, accuses the West of trying to use the election to undermine his government and "destabilize" the nation of 9,5 million people.

Most of the candidates are from four officially registered parties: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice. All parties support Lukashenko's policy.

Last year, another dozen parties were denied registration.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has been in exile in neighboring Lithuania since opposing Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, called on voters to boycott the election.

"There are no people on the ballots who would offer real changes because the regime has allowed participation only by puppets that respond to it. We call for a boycott of this senseless farce, to ignore these elections without elections," she said in a video statement.

Sunday's election marks the first vote in Belarus since the disputed 2020 election, which saw Lukashenko win his sixth term as president but which sparked unprecedented mass protests.

Demonstrations lasted for months, and hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets. More than 35 thousand were arrested. Thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media houses and non-governmental organizations were closed or banned.

Lukashenko relied on subsidies and political support from his main ally, Russia, to stay in power despite the protests. He allowed Moscow to use the territory of Belarus to send troops to Ukraine in February 2022.

The elections are being held in the midst of a fierce confrontation with those who do not think the same as the authorities. More than 1.400 political prisoners are behind bars, including opposition party leaders and renowned human rights activist Ales Bjelicki, who won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

"There are no people on the ballots who would offer real changes because the regime has allowed participation only by puppets that respond to it. We call for a boycott of this senseless farce, to ignore these elections without elections," she said in a video statement.

Sunday's election marks the first vote in Belarus since the disputed 2020 election, which saw Lukashenko win his sixth term as president but which sparked unprecedented mass protests.

Demonstrations lasted for months, and hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets. More than 35 thousand were arrested. Thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media houses and non-governmental organizations were closed or banned.

Lukashenko relied on subsidies and political support from his main ally, Russia, to stay in power despite the protests. He allowed Moscow to use the territory of Belarus to send troops to Ukraine in February 2022.

The elections are being held in the midst of a fierce confrontation with those who do not think the same as the authorities. More than 1.400 political prisoners are behind bars, including opposition party leaders and renowned human rights activist Ales Bjelicki, who won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

The opposition claims that early voting, which began on Tuesday, is fertile ground for vote manipulation, as ballot boxes are unprotected for five days. Election officials said nearly a quarter of voters turned out during the first three days of early voting.

The Vyasna Human Rights Center alleges that students, soldiers, teachers and other public servants were forced to vote early.

"The authorities are using all the means at their disposal to ensure the result they need - from broadcasting propaganda on TV to forcing voters to vote early. Detentions, arrests and searches are happening while the voting is going on," said Pavel Sapelka, a representative Vyasne.

Speaking during a meeting with top Belarusian law enforcement officials on Tuesday, Lukashenko said, without offering evidence, that Western countries were considering plans for a coup, or to try to seize power by force.

He ordered police to step up armed patrols across Belarus, saying "the most important element is to ensure law and order".

After the vote, Belarus will form a new state body - the 1.200-seat All-Belarusian People's Assembly, which will include top officials, local lawmakers, pro-government activists and others.

He will have broad powers, including the authority to consider constitutional amendments and to appoint election officials and judges.

A few years ago, it was believed that Lukashenko was considering whether to lead a new body after leaving the office of president, but apparently his calculation has changed in the meantime, and now there are very few who expect him to step down at the end of his term next year.

For the first time, curtains have been removed from polling stations and voters are prohibited from taking pictures of their ballots. During the 2020 election, activists encouraged voters to take photos of their ballots in an attempt to prevent authorities from manipulating the vote in favor of Lukashenko.

For the first time, Belarus did not invite observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Belarus is a member of the OSCE, whose representatives have been the only international observers of elections in that country for the past few decades.

Since 1995, according to the OSCE, no elections in Belarus have been free and fair.

The OSCE says the decision not to allow its observers to participate leaves the country without a "comprehensive assessment by an international body".

"The situation with human rights in Belarus is getting worse, because those who express disagreement or fight for the human rights of others are the subject of investigations, persecution and often lawsuits," they stated in the statement.

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