What is happening in Belarus cannot be called elections

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A demonstrator walks in front of riot police during a protest after polling stations closed in the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 9 August 2020. [Tatyana Zenkovych/EPA/EFE]

After 9 August Belarus will have a totally illegitimate president, and the West must be prepared for the perspective of the illegitimate Lukashenko, writes Andrius Kubilius.

Andrius KUBILIUS is a Member of the European Parliament, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, former Prime Minister of Lithuania

On 9 August, Sunday, the People of Belarus have cast their vote in hope for change. However, Aliaksander Lukashenko will most probably not allow for free and fair elections to take place and will pronounce himself a winner and President, notwithstanding convincing indirect evidence that majority of Belarusians would choose the symbol of protest – Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and not him.

What is happening today in Belarus cannot be called elections.

The elections have been stolen from the People of Belarus: main opponents are either imprisoned, barred from registration or driven out of the country. The opposition has been “robbed” of members of local electoral commissions, observers, even the rallies. Lukashenko has already stolen the advance voting by inflating the number of “voters”. It would be difficult to expect anything else than him stealing the votes on the actual election day.

All this is nothing new, Lukashenko has been using these measures for last 26 years. However, this time these measures are applied in a very different context. Previously, Lukashenko boosted the numbers “just in case”, as he may have enjoyed factual loyalty of a big part of the society.  However, now the loyalty of majority of people to him has disappeared. He knows that, hence his nervousness.  Lukashenko knows very well that today Belarus is very different than several years ago, society has awakened and demands change – that is essential difference from the previous “elections” in Belarus.

Citizens of Belarus are casting their vote to take back what has been stolen from them – the right to democratic, transparent and legitimate elections. In the long term, it is less important what numbers Lukashenko will write, most important is the actual number of Belarusians who did go to the polling stations in defense of their right. This is the way true nation is born. And no amount of aggression can stop that.

Svetlana Tsikhanovkaya became the symbol of the birth of this nation. She is not pretending she wants to be the President. She only takes upon herself the task to return to Belarusians what has been stolen from them – free and fair elections, and freedom to political prisoners.

Lukashenko understands that he will have a major problem after these sham elections – while until now he had certain factual legitimacy because part of the society demonstrated loyalty to him, now he has lost this loyalty and after 9 August he will be totally illegitimate president, no matter what numbers he assigns to himself.

To be an illegitimate President is not a pleasant thing. And not a safe one. Even if the security services could lock thousands of protesters in prison, the question for Lukashenko remains – what next? For any authority to be supported only by security services is not feasible for longer time. To hope for the Kremlin’s support? Questionable, as Putin may not want to entangle himself with the awakening Belarusian nation – the example of protests in Belarus may quickly spread in Russia (the Belarusian national red-white flags are flying already in the rallies in Khabarovsk).

The West must be prepared for the perspective of the illegitimate Lukashenko. Personal sanctions to those who stole the elections from the Belarusians is a necessary step. Concrete demands to the illegitimate Lukashenko must follow:  return to Belarusians what you stole – freedom to political prisoners, allow for new free and fair elections. Until this is done – no financial support to Lukashenko’s authorities and their entourage, only direct support for civic organizations, communities and business, with no possibility for illegitimate authorities to participate in the distribution of the support.

Changes are brewing in the post-soviet hemisphere – from Belarus to Khabarovsk. Civic nations are born – even in the Far East. Aging autocrats are losing their legitimacy. Expiry date of their regimes is approaching.  This is horrifying for Lukashenko and for Putin.

Leaders of Western democracies, especially the EU, will have to answer one question – do they stand with illegitimate authoritarians or with legitimate civic nation of Belarusians and Russians? Success and change in the whole long-suffering post-soviet area will depend on their reply to this question.

I hope our reply will be unwavering, unjust acts cannot create law, stolen elections cannot create a legitimate President. Slogan “for our freedom and yours” means that for us freedom of the Belarusian nation is as important as our own freedom.

Zhyvie Belarus!

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