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Mayhem In Minsk: A Dispatch From Inside President Lukashenka's Brutal Election Crackdown

Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Alyaksandr Lukashenka

On Sunday, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was reelected to five more years in office. He garnered 80 percent of the vote, according to official numbers. In past elections, Lukashenka, often called “Europe’s last dictator,” all but prevented anyone from directly challenging him. But this year he earned widespread recognition for orchestrating an election that was “much freer than the past,” featuring all the trappings of an open and fair process.

There were nine opposition candidates, each of whom received two, uncensored, 30-minute campaign segments on state television and radio. There was a televised presidential debate (albeit one which Lukashenka declined to participate in). And there were campaign events for his rivals that weren’t busted up by authorities (though they did have to notify the government in advance).

But the concessions Lukashenka made were ultimately meaningless. They were carefully crafted so that the race merely seemed democratic. I was in Minsk for the vote and learned of the lengths Lukashenka went to in order to assure he would win — and to assure that critics would be put in their place after the vote. Far from democracy, this was the epitome of despotism.

“With such small steps to democracy,” opposition candidate Viktor Tereshenko told me, “it will take a minimum of 50 years before we are fully democratic.”

(read the full article in "The New Republic")