Belarusian authorities have ramped up pressure on the opposition and independent election observers ahead of the August 9 presidential ballot amid concerns strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka will use fraud and repression to extend his 26 years of rule against an energized opposition.
Law enforcement on August 8 detained the campaign chief of opposition presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, less than 24 hours before the presidential election.
Separately, the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center reported dozens of cases of police harassment and intimidation at polling stations, as well as the detention of independent election observers during early voting.
Tsikhanouskaya’s spokeswoman told RFE/RL that campaign chief Maryya Maroz was detained and would go before a court on August 10.
Belarusian authorities have also deported three correspondents from Current Time ahead of the election.
The three reporters from Current Time, a Russian-language TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, have also been banned from entering Belarus for 10 years.
Analysts say Lukashenka’s rule looks increasingly vulnerable ahead of the August 9 election, but that he is likely to win through a combination of fraud and a widening crackdown on dissent.
The lead-up to the vote has been marred by dubious disqualifications and an unprecedented scale of detentions and other persecution against a backdrop of a pandemic and pro-democracy protests.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have attended daily rallies in recent weeks in support of Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old political novice backed by disqualified presidential candidates.
Tsikhanouskaya has urged voters to combat electoral fraud and set up multiple organizations to monitor the presidential poll, which began on August 4 with early voting.
Controversial Early Voting
Opposition politicians, rights activists, and critics of Lukashenka have called on citizens to refrain from early voting, charging that it gives government loyalists more opportunities to rig the election results.
The Central Election Commission said on August 8 that turnout during the early voting period was 32.24 percent of the country’s 6.8 million eligible voters.
One election-monitoring campaign said August 8 it had documented inconsistencies in the first three days of early voting at polling stations where observers of the initiative were present.
In total, campaign observers with the opposition group Honest People recorded turnout of 45,613 voters compared to the Central Election Commission’s figure of 89,439 at several hundred ballot stations.
Belarus Votes For President
Read our coverage as voters in Belarus decide on August 9 whether President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will continue after 26 years in power.
According to the initiative, about 50 of its observers have been detained during the five days of early voting.
The Honest People campaign was initiated by jailed businessman Viktar Babaryka, whose presidential campaign and that of another disqualified presidential candidate have joined forces to elect Tsikhanouskaya.
Meanwhile, the Voice platform, which calls on voters to send photos of completed ballots for the presidential election, has counted over 1 million registered users who have promised to help keep track of the vote. The platform was launched by the Honest People initiative.
Ahead of the vote, the Prosecutor-General’s Office threatened to block the website of the Voice platform after Lukashenka on August 6 stated that it was necessary to assess the legitimacy of alternative vote-counting initiatives.
Central Election Commission head Lydia Yarmoshyna has accused the Voice platform of “organizing mass riots” and forming “a shadow” electoral body.