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Belarus's Lukashenka Wins Fifth Term

  • RFE/RL

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attends a news conference in Minsk on October 11.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attends a news conference in Minsk on October 11.

Citing preliminary results, Belarus’s election authorities say President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has won a fifth term with 83.49 percent of the vote.

The Central Election Commission (TsVK) says Tatsyana Karatkevich, a relatively obscure candidate representing the opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth), came in second with 4.42 percent.

Around 6.5 percent voted against all four candidates on the ballot.

Voter turnout in the October 11 election was 86.7 percent.

Two of Lukashenka’s three challengers on the ballot congratulated him on his reelection before any official results were announced.

Speaking about himself in the third person, Lukashenka said earlier in the day it would be a bad sign if he received fewer votes than during Belarus's previous presidential election 2010, when he captured 79.65 percent of the vote in a ballot that spawned opposition protests violently suppressed by authorities.

"That would mean that people were beginning to move away and were dissatisfied with some of my policies," he said after voting in Minsk. "Therefore for me it is very important: If Lukashenka wins, that I retain what was there in the past election."

WATCH: Candidates Voting In Belarus Poll

After the polls closed, some 200 activists demonstrated in central Minsk, carrying banners decrying Lukashenka’s "dictatorship."

There were no immediate signs of the kind of violent police crackdown on protesters that followed the 2010 reelection of Lukashenka, a wily politician whose iron-fisted longevity in office has earned him the moniker "Europe’s last dictator."

The TsVK said on October 10 that 36 percent of the 7 million registered voters had cast their ballots ahead of election day. Opposition representatives say pressure had been put on civil servants, hospital patients, and students to vote early.

"It is very unusual for us to find that a country has an election so many days," James Walsh, who heads the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told The Associated Press. "Most democracies have a challenge in getting its come out and vote."

Walsh said the observers had questions about the security of ballot boxes, a concern raised by the opposition as well.

Besides Lukashenka and Karatkevich, the ballot included Syarhey Haydukyevich and Mikalay Ulakhovich, who are leaders of pro-government parties.

After the polls closed -- but before the TsVK had announced preliminary results -- both Haydukyevich and Ulakhovich congratulated Lukashenka on winning the election.

“It is with pleasure that I congratulate the sitting president,” Haydukyevich was quoted as saying by the Belarusian edition of the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

WATCH: Opposition activists took to the streets of Minsk after elections in Belarus gave President Alyaksandr Lukashenka another five-year term of office.

Since taking power in 1994, Lukashenka has never received less than 75 percent of the vote in presidential elections criticized by the opposition and international observers as fraught with violations.

Lukashenka, who cast his ballot together with his 11-year-old son Kolya, warned opposition leaders to start abiding by the law as soon as the polls close, state-controlled news agency Belta reported.

“We won’t allow anyone to destabilize the situation,” he said.

A day earlier, hundreds of opposition supporters staged an unsanctioned protest rally in the capital, Minsk, urging voters to boycott the vote.

Speaking at the rally on the central Freedom Square, former presidential candidates Mikalay Statkevich and Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu denounced the election, saying its result has already been fixed.

Police didn't interfere as protesters began moving toward Yakub Kolas Square.

Voters across the country on October 11 cast their ballots at polling stations decked out with tables filled with snacks and alcohol, echoing a tradition of election-day festivities during ballots staged by the Soviet government.

Lukashenka had previously called on officials to carry out the election in such a way that people would go to the polls "as if to a celebration."

People wearing traditional garb played music outside some polling stations.

Most of Lukashenka’s political opponents boycotted.

That included Statkevich, a prominent activist who was jailed after running against Lukashenka in 2010, but released in August.

"The result is preordained," said Kenneth Yalowitz, whose three-year tenure as U.S. ambassador to Belarus began in 1994, just after Lukashenka first became president.

"I always caution people, the election itself may look to be free, fair, and open but everything that has preceded it has not. You can’t just look at what happens on election day," he said.

Lukashenka has managed to stay in power for 21 years largely because of the police state he has built, suppressing civil society, shuttering independent media, and marginalizing opposition politicians.

As the ruler of a country of 9 million sandwiched between two power blocs -- NATO and the European Union to the west, Russia to the east -- the former state farm boss and avid hockey player has also had to thread a strategic needle.

Europe and the United States have reacted to past flawed elections and jailing of opponents by imposing travel bans, asset freezes, and other sanctions.

During the 2010 vote, riot police violently suppressed opposition demonstrators and jailed leaders such as Statkevich who had protested Lukashenka’s reelection. The EU, in turn, slapped sanctions on 201 individuals and 18 companies.

Russia, in the meantime, has viewed Belarus as a useful ally and a buffer state against NATO, which already sits on Russia’s border with the three former Soviet states of the Baltics. Moscow has subsidized some key exports to Belarus, including oil, which Minsk refines and resells at a higher markup to European markets.

But Belarus also has several Europe-bound pipelines and disputes between Minsk and Moscow in the past have resulted in supply disruptions.

Amid deepening tensions with the West, Moscow has recently stepped up pressure on Minsk to host a new air base.

Lukashenka has put himself forward as an important interlocutor with the West since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its backing of the insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

He has hosted peace talks in the capital, Minsk, but he has rebuffed Moscow’s pressure to recognize the annexation.

"It's going to be difficult to continue this kind of maneuvering. There are many pressure points that the Russians have over him, mainly economically. He's clearly concerned that Ukraine will be a precedent," Yalowitz said.

"The election will be important because he’ll be able to point to his victory as an endorsement of his policies. He’ll get 80-90 percent of the vote, but the real question is what he will do with this new quote-unquote mandate," he said.

In a preliminary report released last month, OSCE monitors, a transatlantic intergovernmental agency, noted several problems with the election campaign, including the lack of independent media coverage

Most observers, including Yalowitz, believe Lukashenka has genuine popularity, particularly in the country’s conservative rural areas, and probably could win a truly competitive election.

After his release from prison, Statkevich, who many view as Lukashenka’s biggest political threat, told the opposition website Charter 97 that Lukashenka had "run out of money" and would seek financial help from both Russia and the International Monetary Fund.

Statkevich, who led an unsanctioned rally in central Minsk against the proposal for the Russian air base, said most Belarusians view Lukashenka’s government has something unchanging, which makes it hard to galvanize mass support for an alternative.

"For ordinary people, the government is like the weather. You can be lucky, or unlucky. They see it as something objective, something you can't change," Statkevich told RFE/RL in an interview ahead of the vote.

The European Union has signaled it would suspend sanctions on close to 140 Belarusians, including Lukashenka himself, if there is no political crackdown during the election.

EU officials have openly acknowledged Belarus's positive role in helping to mediate the conflict in Ukraine.

Speaking on election day, Lukashenka indicated that his government had attempted to ease the West’s concerns about freedoms in Belarus in the run-up to the ballot.

"We did everything, everything the West wished for, everything the West wanted to see in Belarus on the eve of elections, and I'm being frank with you," he said on October 11.

With reporting by Mike Eckel, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, RFE/RL's Current Time, dpa, Belta,, AP, and