An official exit poll from Belarus’ election commission projects President Alexander Lukashenko has been reelected to a sixth term with 79.7% of the vote to 6.8% for opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leading to protests and allegations of fraud over jailed opposition candidates and suspect results.
- The results come following fierce protests against Lukashenko, to which the strongman retaliated with hundreds of arrests.
- Two of Lukashenko’s main rivals had their candidacy applications rejected, with one arrested and another forced to flee the country ahead of the election.
- Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old English teacher, reluctantly entered the race after her husband Sergei, a political blogger, was also arrested and barred from running.
- The election posed the most serious challenge to Lukashenko’s power since he ascended to the presidency in 1994, with Tikhanovskaya’s rallies drawing huge crowds.
- Several results point to a more formidable showing for Tikhanovskaya than the exit poll suggests; expatriate voters in several European countries reportedly went for her by landslide margins.
- CEC Chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina called on Tikhanovskaya to “accept defeat,” but – citing massive victories in precincts where officials allegedly refused to falsify results – she claimed victory, and protests and clashes with riot gear-clad police have kicked off.
“You could be looking at a full-on revolution in central eastern Europe,” Christopher Granville, a managing director of Global Political Research at TS Lombard told CNBC last week, predicting that Lukashenko would falsify the results and crack down violently against protestors.
Belarusian journalist Franak Viačorka tweeted a photo of one ballot container filled to the top with folded ballots. Tikhanovskaya voters were instructed to fold their ballots 4 to 6 times as a visual demonstration of support, Viačorka reported.
What to Watch For
Crowds of protesters are reportedly growing in cities across the country with police in some areas reportedly abandoning their posts and retreating. In the aftermath of the poll, “A heavy cloak of security descended over the capital, Minsk, where internet service was cut off, phones worked only sporadically and soldiers and riot police cordoned off the central square,” reported the New York Times.
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