In today’s presidential election in Belarus, incumbent Alexander Lukashenko is expected to face the greatest challenge to his 26-year-long rule.
Governed by Lukashenko’s Soviet-style authoritarianism since independence in 1994, Belarus has been rocked by a recent wave of demonstrations that erupted in Minsk in June and quickly spread to remote villages. The opposition, already angered by the country’s decade-long economic stagnation and the government’s inadequate COVID-19 response, was further mobilised when Victor Babariko, Lukashenko’s main presidential contender, was detained.
As protests intensified, presidential candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky was also arrested, in addition to 17 journalists and 700 protesters. These arrests have left Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—Tikhanovsky’s wife, who picked up her husband’s campaign after his imprisonment—as Lukashenko’s greatest challenger.
Despite the strength of the opposition, Belarus’ long record of unfair, rigged elections suggests that today’s vote will likely result in another win for Lukashenko. If this is the case, expect public outrage to reach its peak in the coming months while the president, fearful of his weakened position, further centralises power.
Lukashenko’s foreign policy balancing act between the West and Moscow—a response to recent tensions with historical ally Russia—will likely cease, as the president will view deepening economic integration with Russia as less of a threat to his rule than rapprochement with the EU, which will most likely disapprove of another Lukashenko victory.
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Esra is an analyst on the Current Developments division and a member of The Daily Brief’s research team. She specialises in political and security issues with a particular focus on the Middle East and North Africa.