Be­larus set to give mav­er­ick pres­i­dent 4th term

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

MINSK: Be­larus went to the polls Sun­day in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ex­pected to hand a fourth term to its un­pre­dictable strong­man Alexan­der Lukashenko, ex­tend­ing his grip on power for an­other five years.

Lukashenko, who has been at the helm of this poor for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of 10 mil­lion for the past 16 years, is run­ning against an ar­ray of nine op­po­si­tion can­di­dates.

The mer­cu­rial Lukashenko has in re­cent months in­fu­ri­ated Rus­sia by seek­ing to align Be­larus closer to the EU but also re­ceived last-minute con­ces­sions from the Krem­lin ahead of the polls.

He is widely ex­pected to sail to vic­tory, ex­tend­ing his grip on power for an­other five years and the main un­cer­tainty is whether the op­po­si­tion will man­age to bring sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of sup­port­ers out onto the streets for protests Sun­day night. The side­lined op­po­si­tion can­di­dates hope to muster a large protest on the cen­tral square in the cap­i­tal Minsk af­ter polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) later in the day.

To pre­vent pos­si­ble ral­lies, the au­thor­i­ties turned the square into a gi­ant ice rink dec­o­rat­ing it with a Christ­mas tree, the city's largest. And au­thor­i­ties warned that any protests would be firmly put down.

The op­po­si­tion has said the ice would not pre­vent them from stag­ing a rally and even came up with a rhyming slo­gan that calls on sup­port­ers to bring bags of salt and sand to the square to bat­tle the ice.

The op­po­si­tion can­di­dates have al­ready de­clared the elec­tions fraud­u­lent de­spite be­ing given more free­dom to cam­paign and ac­cess to na­tional air­time for each can­di­da­te­un­prece­dented mea­sures seen as Lukashenko's at­tempts to re­ceive recog­ni­tion from Europe.

"Such a high num­ber of can­di­dates au­to­mat­i­cally means a run-off," said op­po­si­tion's An­drei San­nikov as he cast his bal­lot, "if they tell us there is no run-off it will be de­cep­tion and lies and we will protest."

Lukashenko will need to garner 50 per­cent of the vote to claim vic­tory and even op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers say his vic­tory is a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

The op­po­si­tion has also re­peat­edly said they feared the re­sults would be skewed in favour of Lukashenko and de­nounced the con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of early vot­ing.

Just over 23 per­cent of Be­larus­sians voted early, the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion said. "They made us vote early," said Olga, a stu­dent who signed up to act as an in­de­pen­dent ob­server at a polling sta­tion in the snow-blan­keted cap­i­tal.

"On Satur­day we counted 50 peo­ple who came in to vote, but then there were 180 bal­lots in the box, and to­day the box dis­ap­peared," said Olga, who de­clined to give her last name.

But many in Be­larus say they choose sta­bil­ity, scoff­ing at the op­po­si­tion's calls to come to the square. -Afp

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