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Belarusian Opposition Rallies Behind Tsikhanouskaya In Presidential Race

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya

The united campaigns of three opposition figures involved in Belarus’s presidential election next month have called on Belarusians to vote for registered opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

At a press conference in Minsk on July 17, Tsikhanouskaya and representatives of two opposition candidates who were denied registration as presidential candidates, former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka and prominent businessman Valer Tsapkala, said that their campaigns had united to "defeat" the "long-time dictatorial regime."

"We all have one goal, we all want a change of power on August 9, we want Belarus to wake up. For this goal, we are uniting our efforts and call on all Belarusians to unite in their efforts too," Maryya Kalesnikava, a coordinator of Babaryka's campaign, told the news conference.

She said that from the very beginning, Babaryka's campaign strategy was to unite around an opposition candidate who manages to get official registration.

The upcoming election comes as President Alyaksandr Lukashenka faces mounting public opposition to his rule. The country has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic with more than 65,000 confirmed cases as of July 16, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Lukashenka ignored calls to institute any lockdown measures, dismissing the virus as nothing more than a "psychosis." Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been arrested as the government has cracked down hard on rallies and demonstrations despite calls for restraint from Western governments and institutions, including the United Nations.

Tsikhanouskaya said that she became a presidential candidate because of her jailed husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who was incarcerated after he openly expressed his intention to run for president.

"We are ready to call people to protect their rights by any means that Belarusian citizens choose as right," Tsikhanouskaya said, adding that in case the election results are rigged as has happened in the past, street protests could be possible as well.

Veranika Tsapkala, who represented the campaign of her husband Valer Tsapkala, told the press conference that the campaigns decided to unite in response to the "shameless way" authorities blocked the three "most powerful candidates" from the election, referring to Babaryka, her husband, and Tsikhanouskaya's spouse.

The press conference was held a day after the three campaigns announced they would unite to present a joint program.

Five Candidates Registered

Tsikhanouskaya, Tsapkala, and Kalesnikava reiterated at the press conference that their program included urging Belarusians to vote in the upcoming election, calling for the release of all “political and economic prisoners” and new trials for each of them, a pledge to hold “an honest repeat election after August 9,” and a pledge to cooperate on creating a program to combat electoral fraud and to monitor the presidential poll.

The three women said that a more detailed program will be issued later.

On July 14, the Central Election Commission registered five candidates for the presidential poll, including Tsikhanouskaya and incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Babaryka, who was viewed as a potentially potent rival to Lukashenka, was denied registration. He was jailed in June on suspicion of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion. He denies the charges and says they are politically motivated. The government took over Belgazprombank on June 15.

Amnesty International has proclaimed Babaryka and his son, Eduard, who was arrested with his father on June 18, to be prisoners of conscience.

Tsapkala’s attempt to register was foiled after election officials disqualified at least 38,000 of the signatures he had submitted in support of his candidacy.

After the registrations were announced, a wave of protests rocked the country and hundreds of people have been detained, including at least 17 members of the press covering the demonstrations.

Events in Belarus have drawn criticism from the United States, the European Union, and international rights groups.

On July 17, Amnesty International urged the Belarusian authorities to “halt their crackdown on all dissent” ahead of the presidential election, and “immediately end their vicious campaign of targeting women activists and family members of political opposition representatives using tactics fueled by misogyny.”

In a new report, the London-based human rights watchdog exposes the authorities’ “playbook of targeting women with gender-specific reprisals, which include threats to take their children into state custody and threats of sexual violence.”

“With the election just a month away, women activists not only pose a formidable challenge to the incumbent but also face Lukashenka’s openly misogynistic remarks broadcast on prime-time national television. Women also face disproportionate and politically motivated persecution, intimidation, harassment and reprisals in Belarus today,” said Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, Marie Struthers.

Lukashenka has rejected Western criticism of the government's violent dispersal of the demonstrations and the disqualification of candidates.

The 65-year-old Belarusian leader, who has ruled the country since 1994, is currently serving his fifth term as president. Belarus abolished presidential term limits in 2004.

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