April 23, 2024

As the opposition boycotts the parliamentary and local elections, the president in power since 1994 says he intends to run next year.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, says he intends to seek re-election next year, which could extend his grip on the country to 36 years.

He spoke on Sunday as the country, a neighbour and ally of Russia, held tightly controlled parliamentary and local elections decried as a sham by the opposition, which dismissed the balloting as a “senseless farce”.

“Tell them I will run in the [2025] election,” Lukashenko said, according to a social media channel run by his team. “No one, no responsible president would abandon his people who followed him into battle.”

The parliamentary and local elections – which started on Tuesday and end on Sunday – are the first nationwide vote since the presidential election of 2020, which sparked huge protests against Lukashenko, who is widely believed to have rigged the result to extend his decades-long rule.

The elections are set to cement Lukashenko’s steely rule despite calls for a boycott from the opposition.

Belarus Election
A vendor sells vegetables next to official leaflets with competing parliamentary candidates’ information displayed, in Minsk, Belarus [AP Photo]

Opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in neighbouring Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 election, urged voters to boycott the poll.

“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,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement.

“Let’s be clear: The regime’s attempt to use these fake elections to legitimise its power will not be successful. The people of Belarus see through this sham,” she said, urging the international community not to recognise the outcome of the ballot.

Most candidates belong to four pro-regime parties that were allowed to be registered: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice.

All those parties support Lukashenko’s policies. About a dozen other parties were denied registration last year.

Lukashenko warned that the authorities had “learnt our lesson” since the 2020 protests and there would be “no rebellions” during Sunday’s election.

Last month, Belarus’s powerful KGB security service orchestrated a series of raids which rights groups said had targeted the families of political prisoners.

There are currently 1,419 political detainees in Belarus jails, according to leading human rights group Viasna. Among the detainees is renowned rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.

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