Belarus, a Contested Election and the Response of the People

Belarus, a Contested Election and the Response of the People

Somalilandsun: After the heavily criticised and internationally condemned election in Belarus where the incumbent president who has been in office for the last 25 years “won” a landslide victory the protests against the suspected election fraud and lack of transparency has led to mass protests with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, hoping for a long-overdue change.

Over 7,000 Belarusians have been arrested and at least two have died since protests against President Alexander Lukashenko began over a week ago. Following several testimonies of violence and serious misconduct by police and in the country’s prisons, the EU demands that the actions of the police must be investigated. On Monday, after testimonies leaked videos of protesters being shot and abused by police and security forces, the EU announced that it wants to see an investigation into how arrested protesters in Belarus have been treated.

– Due to shocking reports of inhumane conditions in prisons, the EU expects a thorough and transparent investigation so that those responsible can be held accountable, says Josep Borrell, the Union’s Foreign Minister.

However, the Belarusian regime continues to dismiss the allegations, claiming they are fabricated and trying to divert attention away from the counties’ internal problems.

The riot police are among those heavily criticised. The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia has published a video in which he claims that his daughter’s classmate is one of those who has been severely beaten by the police.

“I stand in solidarity with those who have taken to the streets in Belarusian cities for peaceful protests”, he says.

The Belarusian election was deemed unfair and illegitimate by international observers who to a large extent were not able to carry out their duties. The incumbent president got 80,1 percent of the votes whilst the opposition candidate Svaitlana Tsikhanouskava got 10,12 percent of the votes. After the election, she later fled to Lithuania where she continues to lead the opposition against the incumbent president.

The EU, US, and other democracies sided with the opposition and demanded that the government respects the democratic freedoms of the Belarusian people whilst Russia and other less democratic countries support the Belarusian regime. Amongst those countries most worried about the events in Belarus are its neighbours, primarily the Baltic countries, Ukraine and the EU as well as Australia and the Vatican, all calling for an end to violence and the respect of democratic and human rights. Pope Francis in his Sunday address expressed the need for dialogue, to refuse violence, and to respect justice and rights.

The Belarusian situation also highlights the rising level of conflict between the western democracies on one side and Russia and its allies on the other. A conflict that will also most likely lead to a standoff in the UN security council, leaving it incapacitated to act.

Belarus is often seen as the last dictatorship in Europe even if Russia and Turkey are often regarded as undemocratic or flawed democracies. The question now is whether or not Belarus will join the family of democracies in Europe or if it will continue to be a closed dictatorship with close ties to Russia.

The incumbent president has been in office since 1994 and has since then formed very close ties with Russia who also expressed the possibility that Russia will intervene militarily to protect the current regime.

One fact that is hopeful, is the fact that even if there have been protests before. None of them have reached the strength and momentum as the current. A protester wrote on his twitter account that it is now or never, perhaps that is a partly accurate analysis. If the democracy movement is crushed it will most likely take a long time before it can regain its strength and momentum and if that will be the result the incumbent president might even be boldened by his victory and what will then happen is most likely something that goes against the dreams and aspirations of many Belarusians.

The next days and weeks will give an indication of which way things will evolve. For the Belarusian protesters, much is at stake. More than most of us can ever imagine.

The author Henrik G.S. Arvidsson is an award-winning researcher and lecturer in international business and marketing. He has over 25 years of experience as a business consultant and currently owns businesses in the fields of Consultancy, fiduciary, and transport.

Ruslana Arvidsson is a political scientist and consultant, specialised in innovative governance and innovation.

Both are active at the Henrik G.S. Arvidsson institute of international business research.