Belarusians vote in tightly controlled election amid calls for boycott

Rule of Alexander Lukashenko set to continue as balloting dismissed as ‘farce’

Belarusians cast their votes on Sunday in tightly controlled parliamentary and local elections that seem set to continue the rule of president Alexander Lukashenko.

Mr Lukashenko has presided over the former Soviet bloc nation for nearly 30 years and has frequently accused the West of trying to use the vote to undermine his government and “destabilise” the nation of 9.5 million people.

Sunday’s vote went ahead despite calls for a boycott from the opposition that dismissed the balloting as a “senseless farce”.

Most candidates belong to the four officially registered parties – Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labour and Justice – which all support Mr Lukashenko’s policies. About a dozen other parties were denied registration last year.


Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania after challenging Mr Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, urged voters to boycott the elections.

“There are no people on the ballot who would offer real changes because the regime only has allowed puppets convenient for it to take part,” she said in a video statement.

“We are calling to boycott this senseless farce, to ignore this election without choice.”

Sunday’s was the first election in Belarus since the contentious 2020 vote that handed Mr Lukashenko his sixth term in office and triggered a wave of mass demonstrations.

Protests swept the country for months, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets. More than 35,000 people were arrested.

Thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media outlets and non-governmental organisations were shut down and outlawed.

Mr Lukashenko relied on subsidies and political support from main ally Russia to survive the protests, allowing Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

The opposition says the early balloting that began on Tuesday offers fertile ground for the vote to be manipulated, with ballot boxes unprotected for five days.

Election officials said nearly a quarter of the country’s voters cast ballots during the first three days of early voting.

The Viasna Human Rights Centre said students, soldiers, teachers and other civil servants were forced to participate in early voting.

Belarus for the first time refused to invite observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to monitor the election.

Election officials said on Sunday that more than 40 per cent of voters had cast ballots during early voting from Tuesday to Saturday.

Turnout stood at 65.4 per cent by 4pm on Sunday, meeting the 50 per cent threshold needed under Belarusian law for the vote to stand, according to the Belarusian Central Election Commission. Voting closed at 8pm. – Associated Press