Belarus: the Dictator and the fight to oust him
A country whose democratic history has been fraught with corruption, scandals and protest, Belarus has once again made headlines after the recent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, the only President the nation has ever known.
Entering his sixth term in office, Lukashenko has sparked controversy after polls showed he won the 9th of August election by a landslide, taking 80% of the votes. This result spurred more than 100,000 people to line the streets of Minsk, the country's capital, in protests of what they saw as a rigged election. This is not the first time this has happened in Belarus. Many of the country’s votes throughout the 21st century have led to mass demonstrations, like the 2004 referendum to remove Presidential term limits and the 2006 and 2010 Presidential elections.
Hi reign has not been without protest, with opposition candidates standing against him in every election. The latest to take the fight was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who took over from her husband after he was arrested for standing in defiance of the President. Together, with two other women, Svetlana ran an opposition campaign which gained serious traction and was expected to win the election, with their loss initiating most of the recent protests. Following the result Ms Tikhanovskaya left to neighbouring Lithuania, where she had already sent her children out of fear for their safety. Her co-organiser Maria Kolesnikova was then snatched off the street by masked men at the beginning of September where she narrowly avoided forced exile to Ukraine by tearing up her own passport. She now sits in a prison in Minsk under charged of undermining national security. This tactic of opposition control through brute force, arrests and the removal of any leaders is not new for Lukashenko and fits the pattern of his rule.
Alexander Lukashenko first took office in 1994, becoming the first (and only) elected President of Belarus after their claim of independence following the collapse of the USSR. Before his political career he served as part of the Soviet Army and Border Troops, being a long-standing supporter of the Soviet regime. During his first years in Office he moved to claim absolute power and in 2006 disbanded the elected Parliament and replaced its members with handpicked loyalists. This caused much upset but allowed him to solidify himself over time as the centre piece of governance, controlling the Executive (ruling), Legislative (policy making) and Judicial (law upholding) branches of government. Since then he has maintained a tight grip on Belarus, taking the role of primary controller and utilising state apparatus, like his KGB (the secret police who still use the name of its Soviet predecessor), to destroy any and all opposition.
The International Dimension
Russia is Belarus’ closest ally, with Lukashenko calling for Russian military support following the reactions to the election, even after some previous accusations of Russian interference in the politcial process and possible invasion. Their special relationship through the Union State leaves much of the West worrying about Russian influence in the country and adds to wider worries of their role in Election and Political meddling worldwide. Much like neighbouring Ukraine, Belarus is a country torn between Russia and 'the West' and many believe Lukashenko is at the heart of this divide.
The international reaction to this recent situation was swift, but its results are yet to be seen. The US and EU have officially rejected Lukashenko’s legitimacy and the UK went one step further to sanction Lukashenko, his son and 6 other officials under a new system introduced in July. The Belarusian is the first leader to be prosecuted under this new act.
At the time of writing this post it is unsure what will happen as the situation in Belarus develops. With protests continuing throughout the country there is some hope among the opposition that things could change, but looking at the history of defiance to Lukashenko's rule, sceptics don't seem so hopeful.