MINSK – Belarusian opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya rejected on Monday (Aug 10) official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide victory, saying the poll was rigged and that protests which turned bloody on Sunday would continue.
The central election commission had earlier said Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s election, while Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity to become his main rival, took just 9.9 per cent.
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.
The streets were quiet in the capital Minsk and other cities after violence on Sunday night when riot police used force to try to disperse thousands of protesters who gathered after polls closed to denounce what they said were illegitimate elections.
Tikhanouskaya, who entered the race after her blogger husband, who intended to run, was jailed, told reporters in Minsk that she considered herself the election winner. She said the election had been massively rigged.
Her aides said the opposition wanted a vote recount at polling stations where there were problems. They also said the opposition wanted to hold talks with authorities about how to bring about a peaceful change of power.
There was no immediate response to that offer from Lukashenko.
A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994, but is facing his biggest challenge in years to keep his grip on power amid disenchantment in some quarters over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy and his patchy human rights record.
Tikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia’s RIA news agency cited the Belarusian Interior Ministry as saying on Monday that police had detained around 3,000 people at Sunday’s post-election protests.
Lukashenko’s attempts to crack down on protests could hurt his wider effort to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.
Neighbouring Poland said its Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had called for a special European Union summit on Belarus. The Polish foreign ministry condemned the violence and appealed to the Belarusian authorities “to start respecting fundamental human rights”.
Rights groups say more than 1,300 people were also detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.
After casting his vote on Sunday, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as “fake news or far-fetched accusations”.