Belarus – an Eastern European country bordering Russia – held presidential elections on Sunday, and the results have been chaotic.
President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected on Sunday with more than 80% of the vote amid accusations of voter fraud. He has been serving as Belarus’ president for 26 years now since assuming office for the first time in 1994.
He is the longest-serving leader in all of Europe.
Lukashenko’s main challenger was a 37-year-old woman named Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Tikhanovskaya decided to run after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, was jailed in May. Sergei is a Youtuber and blogger who has been actively opposed to Lukashenko. He announced that he would be running for president in opposition to Lukashenko in May, and was promptly arrested and disqualified from the election.
That’s when his wife – former stay-at-home mom of 2 – took up the candidacy.
“I don’t need power, but my husband is behind bars,” she said at a campaign rally in Minsk in July. “I’ve had to hide my children. I’m tired of putting up with it. I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of being afraid.”
According to reports, Tikhanovsky drew thousands of people to her rallies across the country.
Freedom House, a US-based, non-profit that advocates for democracy around the world, describes Belarus as “an authoritarian state in which elections are openly orchestrated and civil liberties are tightly restricted”.
President Lukashenko has ruled Belarus in shadows of its Soviet past, with the use of collective farms, state-run tractor factories, and secret police. His administration has been accused of voting fraud for which Belarus has received sanctions from the EU.
Tikhanovskaya boasted a campaign for free and fair elections and “to make the vile tradition of persecuting people for the truth a thing of the past.”
Her website states (when translated into English), “By voting for me, you are voting for the restoration of your right to choose power, for new and fair elections.”
When Sunday’s elections resulted in Lukashenko’s victory, however, – and by a landslide 80% – Tikhanovskaya disputed the election results, and protestors took to the streets. Much violence has been seen in the days since.
Tikhanovskaya was detained for seven hours after disputing the results.
In an emotional video she posted to Youtube, she announced that she had fled the country.
“I took a very difficult decision,” she said. “I know that many will understand me, many will condemn me, and many will hate me.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius announced via Twitter that she is now safe in Lithuania, where she sent her children prior to the elections for their own safety.
— Linas Linkevicius (@LinkeviciusL) August 11, 2020