MINSK, July 15. /TASS/. The nationwide campaign race leading up to the August 9 presidential election in Belarus kicked off on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) registered five candidates. They are to submit their campaign platforms to the media selected by CEC until July 19.
The registered candidates are incumbent Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada party Sergei Cherechen, ex-lawmaker Anna Kanopatskaya, Co-Chairman of the Tell the Truth movement Andrei Dmitriev and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whose husband was arrested in the case of organizing actions "that grossly violate public order." Two applicants, including ex-head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko who is under arrest, were denied registration.
The candidates are entitled to make a speech on state TV and radio. However, the incumbent president has already rejected the opportunity. Also, candidates and/or their representatives can take part in public debates.
The election campaign will continue until August 8. Between August 4 and 8, early voting will be held. The main election date is August 9. A runoff, if necessary, should take place within two weeks, or until August 23.
Lukashenko's sixth campaign
According to the CEC, more than 1.9 million signatures were collected in support of the country’s incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been at the helm of the country for the past 26 years.
In 2015, he received 83.5% of the vote in his support. Earlier, Lukashenko said he was committed to maintaining peace in his country and avoiding political turmoil similar to Ukraine. He also pledged to save everything that was achieved during his previous years in office.
In addition to Lukashenko, the Central Election Commission registered Sergei Cherechen, the Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada party, as a presidential candidate. More than 143,000 valid signatures have been collected in his support, with the necessary 100,000-signature threshold. Cherechen has led the party since 2018. During the CEC session, Cherechen said: "Just like many other citizens of our country, we expected a slightly different [electoral] process. As far as the current situation is concerned, I simply have no words."
Another registered candidate is former member of the lower house of the Belarusian parliament Anna Kanopatskaya who has secured more than 146,000 signatures. "I really hope that the elections will be fair and transparent and will be held in accordance with OSCE standards, which will become a step for Belarus towards the European Union," she said. Prior to the registration, Kanopatskaya said she "does not trade in the country’s sovereignty." She added that she was ready to team up with any candidate with similar views, but "at this stage I see no candidate to team up with."
One more candidate is Co-Chairman of the Tell the Truth movement Andrei Dmitriev who secured the support of 106,000 voters. Together with other politicians, Dmitriev founded the Tell the Truth social movement in 2009. According to him, "the absolute majority of Belarusians want to choose a new president." "This is no longer a campaign for candidate Dmitriev, this is a campaign of solidarity for everyone who thinks that Belarus needs a new president," he said.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was likewise registered as a candidate. More than 105,000 valid signatures have been collected in her support. Sergei Tikhanovsky who is the head of his wife Svetlana’s initiative group, was arrested in the case of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order. During the CEC session, Tikhanovskaya said: "I hope for changes this year, for very big changes."
The Central Election Commission refused to register two applicants. One of them is ex-head of Hi-Tech Park Valery Tsepkalo who was previously considered one of the strong rivals of the current head of state. Tsepkalo was not registered because of the insufficient number of signatures for becoming a presidential nominee. Slightly more than 78,000 signatures collected in his support were recognized as valid, while the minimum threshold is 100,000 signatures.
The CEC also decided to deny registration to ex-head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko who is under arrest due to "contradictory data presented in the declaration" and violation of requirements "regarding the participation of foreign organizations and citizens in financing the election campaign or any participation in it."
According to the information provided by the Minsk City Court, Babariko is charged under three sections of the Criminal Code, including the legalization of funds obtained by criminal means, tax evasion and bribery.
Unauthorized mass events, accompanied by mass detentions and arrests, took place in the capital Minsk and any other cities as candidates collected signatures in their support. According to Belarusian human rights activites, about 700 people were detained, and 24 of them were recognized by the rights community as political prisoners. More than 300 people faced administrative arrests and fines.
The protests subsided noticeably as the registration began, with sporadic solidarity rallies failing to gain momentum and grow into mass events. Analysts explain this by a harsh police response on one hand and the lack of pretexts for expressing discontent on the other.
Observers think that rallies in support of Tsepkalo and Babariko will resume. Their campaign headquarters already announced they would challenge the denial of registration in court.