Despite Alexander Lukashenko's technically landslide win with over 80%, the presidential election in Belarus has turned out nearly the most nailbiting in the entire post-Soviet history. With all the voting papers processed and the results announced, the election can by no means be deemed complete.
As your present correspondent predicted more than two months ago, all the key opposition candidates united, and mind you, even before the election, as the Belarusian Election Commission registered none of the Babariko-Tikhanovsky-Tsepkalo trio. They united around the wife of blogger Tikhanovsky, Svetlana, who managed to pass registration and promised to become sort of a stalking horse, who would hold a new fair, transparent and competitive election instead of taking office in case of victory.
At the end of the day, the joint opposition headquarters started looking quite exotic, including Tikhanovskaya replacing her husband; Veronika, the wife of Tsepkalo, who left the country; and Babariko's representative Maria Kolesnikova, a musician and cultural project manager living in both Belarus and Germany. Lukashenko said the following about this trio: "These three poor girls don't understand what they're reading. Let's release politicians, economists, drug addicts and criminals, hold a fair election and move on. They don't understand what they say or do."
We must however admit that Tikhanovskaya, who lived a life of a modest housewife until this summer, declared herself a person with a hint of political qualities and certain charisma. Thus, in a joint interview of the "three Amazons", she was the only one who managed to say a few phrases in the majority Belarusian language, which is extremely rare in the republic. Being a translator and foreign languages teacher by training and work history, she also gave an English-language interview to the BBC.
In general, Svetlana really enjoyed giving interviews to the foreign media, appealed to foreign public opinion and politicians. So, in an interview with the German Bild newspaper a few days before the election, she addressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "Mrs. Merkel, get in contact with Lukashenko. Tell him we don't want war. All we want is a fair election. We are sick and tired of the dictator's rule. So tired."
A similar focus on Europe was demonstrated by her colleague, the vivid Maria Kolesnikova, who told the press: "As a patriot of Belarus, I can say that I am also a patriot of Europe. I share European values and believe that they forge the world's civilization onwards. So maybe I'm just a patriot of planet Earth?" By the way, prior to the election, she was detained by Interior Ministry representatives, who swiftly released her though, calling the incident a misunderstanding.
Election day in Belarus was relatively quiet, although there were special security arrangements introduced in Minsk, and the evening saw the police block the central streets of the capital city. After the voting deadline, the announced turnout was 79%, with Alexander Lukashenko securing about the same percentage of votes.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said that it was she, not the opponent, who scored about 80% (by the way, it was really so at foreign voting stations), that she did not recognize the results and would challenge it. At the same time, several thousand protesters took to the streets of Minsk and clashed with the police, with many people injured and detained. The opposition also claimed one casualty, but the Interior Ministry denied this information.
There were also protests in other cities, though with even fewer participants than in Minsk. Opposition media reported that security forces had actively started siding with the protesters, but it was actually in a couple of places alone that riot police put down their shields, refusing to attack the crowd. There were reports that Lukashenko and his family flew to Turkey, but those also appeared fictitious. And Svetlana Tikhanovskaya lodged a complaint to the Central Election Committee and left for Lithuania to her children.
On Monday, workers of the Belarusian Steel Works (BSW) in the city of Zhlobin announced a strike, making political demands. However, the move was relatively peaceful and local. The Minsk protests went on, and still continue, with the first fatal case officially recorded late on August 10, specifically at 23:00. According to the police, the victim was about to throw a firing device at law enforcement officers, and it exploded in his hand. The situation escalated when bottle bombs came into play against the riot police, making heavy equipment appear in the downtown.
Lukashenko interpreted the protests as a foreign intervention orchestrated by the Czech Republic, where the opposition's real "general staff" is allegedly located. The Belarusian President also mentioned a flow of Maidan-inclined people from the territories of Ukraine and Russia. This information was partially confirmed by Ukrainian far-right politician and war criminal Ihor Mosiychuk, who wrote the following on the social media: "Our Ukrainian people are in Minsk. They've been getting there day and night and only succeeded on the third try, but not from Ukraine. The Internet is down, mobile phones function every other time. They have already contacted resistance groups against Lukashenko's bloody regime."
The Presidents of Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Turkey congratulated Lukashenko on his victory. And President of the European Council Charles Michel tweeted: "Violence against protesters is not the answer. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, basic human rights must be upheld." Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed the EU leadership and urged an emergency European Council meeting on Belarus. Representative of the US Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee Robert Menendez said Belarusian authorities must recount votes or even hold a new election, otherwise US and EU sanctions may be renewed against Lukashenko.
The Minsk "Maidan" will unlikely become an all-out repetition of the Kiev one due to the number of protesters engaged, the lack of an obvious and deep split in Lukashenko's circle of close associates, and the security forces' persistent loyalty to the President. But this page can be hardly considered turned over. Social tensions and protest sentiments will survive, and may even keep escalating. The Belarusian geopolitical context complexity will be also preserved or may also further increase. Given his troubled relations with the Kremlin and a new spiral of tension with the West, Lukashenko is expected to reach all the more out to China –Xi Jinping was revealingly the first one to congratulate him on the victory.