Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko faces several rivals in his bid for a sixth term at the August 9 election, but few expect him to lose his authoritarian grip on power.
No-one can say the line-up for the presidential election in Belarus scheduled for August 9 lacks variety.
Several strong candidates from among the Minsk political establishment have their sights set on ousting — peacefully — the country’s “perennial” president Alexander Lukashenko, who is seeking his sixth term in office.
“This time some very unexpected candidates, who could give Lukashenko a real fight, have popped up. They have learnt a lesson from the previous elections, in which some presidential hopefuls focused too much on street protests,” Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a Belarusian political analyst and media expert, told Euronews.
“Now we have at least two candidates who can throw down the gauntlet to Lukashenko differently but appealingly — through connecting with Belarusian people’s hearts and minds for a new chapter in Belarusian history. Many people have already pinned their hopes on them.”
Of 55 groups that initially submitted documents to enter the race, 15 were given a green light to move forward by collecting 100,000 votes in support of their candidates, a mandatory prerequisite in the election.
The deadline for this is June 19, when the Central Election Commission will rule on the legitimacy of the collected votes and decide who to put on the ballot. Candidates will then be nominated between June 20 and July 4.
A sea of candidates
Among the hotchpotch of candidates are relatively seasoned politicians: Oleg Gaidukevich, leader of the Liberal-Democratic party (LDP), Yuri Gubarevich, leader of the movement “Za svobodu” (“For Freedom”), Andrei Dmitrijev, co-chairman of the movement “Govori pravdu” (“Speak the truth”), and Olga Kovalkova, co-founder of the party of Belarusian Christian Democracy.
But the list is also spiced up with several outsiders, like pensioner Vladimir Nepomniashchikh or Aleksandr Tabolich — a tattoo artist and a member of a Minsk-based band — who are both arguably seeking the limelight primarily for non-political reasons.
Importantly, the list also includes two heavyweights who have captured the attention of both the public and analysts alike: Viktor Babariko, ex-chairman of the board of Belgazprombank, and Valery Tsepkalo, former Belarusian ambassador to the United States, and the ex-head of High Technologies Park in Minsk.
“These two candidates represent the Belarusian establishment. They know very well how the system works and they have met the president (Lukashenko) on numerous occasions. The latter in fact was his aide at some point. They have resources for the campaign and street unrest is not part of their game. This is what sets the election apart from the previous elections,” stresses Alyaksandr Klaskouski.
Anatolij Pankovskij, a Belarusian political analyst, told Euronews that the participation of “political novices” and “fat cats” like Babariko and Tsepkalo makes the campaign different and very interesting.
“The situation we now see appearing is unprecedented. It remains to be seen if the two will be cleared by the electoral authority for the election campaign,” he says.
However Genadih Sharipkin, a political observer from Minsk, notes that the election will be played out in “extraordinary” circumstances: conducted against the background of a collapsed economy and the COVID-19 crisis that has claimed many lives, partly due to the reckless behaviour of President Lukashenko.
Although Belarus has had more than 52,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 298 deaths (as of June 12) according to the Johns Hopkins University, no lockdown has been imposed.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.