Since 9 August, tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Minsk, Belarus to protest the re-election of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. Despite overwhelming public support for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya prior to the election, Lukashenko had declared a landslide victory, with 80% of the votes. This marks his 26th year in power.
THE UNLIKELY CONTENDER
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher with no political experience, may have lacked political experience but she was no stranger to Belarus’ political arena. Her husband, a prominent opposition blogger, had alongside other dissidents, been forced into exile or jailed. The lack of serious political contenders to Lukahenko’s rule pushed Tikhanovskaya to take on the mantle and run. Thousands took to the streets of Belarus in support of her and she was initially projected to win 60% to 70% of votes. However, the final published results saw her obtain only 10.12% of votes.
Source: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Lukashenko’s victory has since been heavily scrutinised and rejected by Belarusians alike, who erupted into massive demonstrations throughout the city. Lukashenko has retaliated in kind with an autocratic blend of intimidation tactics and denialism. The Belarusian government has sent out security forces to squash the protest and has pinned them on an ever growing list of foreign agitators, from Nato, Poland, Ukraine to even members of Russia’s opposition. This unique brand of authoritarianism has also led to an extremely heavy handed approach in dealing with protestors, from the indiscriminate and unceremonious arrest of people to the brutal and ferocious beatings of those in custody.
Freed detainees receiving medical treatment. Source : BBC
Source: Tatyana Zenkovich, AP
For Moscow, Belarus is a strategic buffer against NATO and the EU. The relationship between the two nations dates back to the era of the Soviet Union when Belarus was a part of the Soviet bloc. As Lukashenko faces the greatest threat to his power in decades, Putin, albeit reserved, has stated a willingness to provide troops if necessary.
The protestors filling the streets of Belarus remain a stark parallel to the empty streets in various cities. After 26 years in power, for Lukashenko, hindsight is definitely not 2020.