Alyaksandr Lukashenka used a televised appearance on March 19 to say that two former Belarusian government ministers currently under Western sanctions would be "strong candidates" who could succeed him after a possible presidential election.
Lukashenka, whose legitimacy is not recognized by many Western governments since a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that sparked unprecedented and ongoing protests, has refused to meet with opposition leaders to discuss their demands for his exit and a fresh election.
Amid a brutal crackdown that has included tens of thousands of detentions, opposition leaders have accused Lukashenka of dangling possible reforms and a new election simply to buy himself time as he seeks to complete a sixth term.
It was unclear how serious Lukashenka was in his televised address when he held up former Interior Minister Yury Karayev and former Health Minister Uladzimer Karanik as would-be candidates.
Karayev, interior minister until October, is among the Belarusian officials targeted by EU and other Western sanctions for allegedly helping mount the violent crackdown on the current protests.
Karanik was health minister until August and is targeted by U.S. and EU sanctions.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
"Here I have two of my people here, they can participate in the presidential election," Lukashenka told the TV audience. "Moreover, they will be strong candidates. One general, the second governor" he said of the two men, both of whom hold appointments in the Hrodna region.
He called them "young, [a] new generation, intelligent," and "aware of the value of this country."
In a video statement released on March 18, presidential challenger Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on Belarusians to initiate a "second wave of protests" next week against Lukashenka, the authoritarian leader who was declared president for a sixth-straight term despite the opposition's belief that Tsikhanouskaya was the rightful winner.
Tsikhanouskaya contends she won the August 9 election but officials committed massive vote fraud.
Tsikhanouskaya also said that the online vote, launched on March 18, would encourage the international community to act as mediators in the crisis that erupted after peaceful protests were met with brute force by the authorities.
None of Lukashenka's previous elections or carefully orchestrated elections in more than two decades in power has been deemed free and fair by Western observers.
On March 19, Lukashenka said only elections will determine his successor.
"There is only one transit of power: elections. The people have elected everything. My children after me will not be presidents," he said, countering longtime speculation that he was grooming one of his children to follow him.