Voters in Belarus are heading to the polls to elect their president in an unusually dramatic and hotly-contested vote. What was widely anticipated to be a smooth re-election ride for authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko has turned into a full-on political competition, marked by the biggest opposition protests for a decade and mass detentions, the BBC reports.
While the authorities have sat back, a broad volunteer movement has spread across the country to collect money for doctors and to help expand public awareness of the pandemic., ABC News adds. The volunteers have collected $350,000 for the hospitals and provided medical workers with 450,000 respirators, hazmat suits and other protective gear..
“The outbreak has shown that the Belarusians are capable of strong solidarity,” said Andrei Tkachev, a coordinator for the BYCOVID-19 volunteer group that has collected money and protective gear for medical workers.
There are several independent groups monitoring the vote count, says Maxim Rust, a political analyst and researcher of political elites in post-Soviet area. The head of the Belarusian Electoral Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshina announced that all such initiatives (especially the “Holas” (“Voice”) campaign) are illegal and do not comply with Belarusian law.
Support for Belarusian civil society has been expressed by representatives of the EU, US and others, who have appealed to the authorities in Minsk for transparent elections and refraining from using violence, he writes for New Eastern Europe, a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
But analysts say that’s unlikely to happen and expect Lukashenko to declare himself a winner through vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, says Katia Glod, an independent expert on Belarus. But his problems won’t end with a victory. He will have to grapple with economic difficulties, rising discontent at home, managing the country’s strained relationship with Russia, as well as condemnation from the West if a crackdown on critics continues, TIME adds.
When DJs started playing a Soviet-era protest song, We Want Changes, at an open-air event in Belarus, a man in a dark suit pulled the plug on the sound system. The two DJs were detained. The event took place two days before a presidential election, RFE/RL reports (above).