Opposition candidates allowed in Belarus election
Often called “Europe’s last dictatorship”, the Eastern European state of 10 million has enjoyed few democratic freedoms under the 65-year-old president.
The election for the largely powerless parliament comes as Belarus is being urged by Russia into closer military and economic cooperation while Lukashenka is looking to forge ties with the European Union, United States and China.
Lukashenko has opposed what he sees as Russian attempts to force Minsk into merging with Russia and says Moscow has indulged in “hysterics” over his moves to improve ties with the west.
Russia and Belarus formed a loose “union” in 1996 and enjoy close economic and military cooperation. But there have been disputes over energy prices and import duties.
Belarus has refused to recognise the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula after the seizure from Ukraine in 2014. Moscow has also cut subsidies that were supporting the Belarusian state-run economy.
Lukashenko has dismissed Russia’s proposed merger of the two states.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently constitutionally barred from serving a third consecutive term in 2024. But if he was leader of a new, unified Belarusian and Russian union, he might be able to dodge the limitation.
Lukashenka has ruled Belarus with an iron grip for 25 years and faces a presidential election in 2020.
More than 500 candidates are standing for the 110-seat lower house of the National Assembly. More than 200 potential candidates have been barred, mostly for allegedly not providing enough valid signatures.
“The authorities are making some concessions, but at the same time they are signalling that they won’t allow democracy to run wild,” said Yauheni Preiherman of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations.
Hanna Kanapatskaya of the opposition United Civic Party and Alena Anisim, an independent candidate with ties to the opposition, have been blocked from standing, although both were elected in 2016.
Lukashenko allowed the two opposition candidates to win seats as non-government allies for the first time since 1996.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the 2016 general election, saying there had been “a significant number of procedural irregularities and a lack of transparency”.
About a quarter of votes have already been cast, a process that is seen as vulnerable to abuse. Ballot boxes are left unattended during voting and votes are counted without monitoring by observers.
Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Kremlin