Early voting has begun in Belarus in a contentious presidential election set for August 9 that pits authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka against an opposition united around a political novice.
The Central Election Commission said on August 4 that the country's almost 7 million eligible voters could cast ballots at 5,767 polling stations set up in public spaces including medical facilities and army barracks and at 44 polling stations abroad.
Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, is seeking to extend his rule for another five-year term. His main challenger is 37-year-old Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an English translator who is running in place of her jailed husband.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which carries out international election and conflict monitoring, has not recognized any elections in Belarus as free and fair since 1995.
Tsikhanouskaya said she expected Lukashenka's supporters to seek to falsify the election results and called on citizens to vote on August 9 -- when more observers are present -- to reduce election fraud.
The election commission has said that no more than three observers can be present at each polling station during early voting due to the coronavirus pandemic and only five will be permitted to oversee ballot boxes on August 9.
The OSCE said it will not send observers to the vote this year after Belarus failed to issue an invitation in time.