Belarus election: Who is dictator Alexander Lukashenko?


    Official figures give Lukashenko 80 percent of the vote, the same as the last election in 2010. The implausible result of the election has triggered a pushback by the electorate like never seen before. Tens of thousands have gathered on the streets of Minsk, the eastern European country’s capital city, to demonstrate their anger and frustration at years of autocratic rule.

    Two opposition candidates were denied places on the ballot and his one opponent Svetlana Tikhanivskaya, the woman whom many have wanted to install as the new leader, was standing in the place of her arrested husband.

    Voters queued for hours to exercise their democratic power only to have it thrown away in another sham election – and the Belarusian people have decisively said they will not stand for it anymore.

    Often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko has maintained a tight grip on power by retaining much from the country’s Soviet past.

    Now the longtime president of Belarus has retained power once again, what do we know about him?

    Who is Alexander Lukashenko?

    Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years, having gained the presidency when Belarus separated from the Soviet Union in 1994.

    Lukashenko was previously director of a state farm and had made a swift political career as an anti-corruption politician.

    He is heavily derided across the rest of Europe – undemocratic and unpleasant, he is often referred to as ‘the last dictator in Europe.’

    Lukashenko has maintained political power ever since through strong state control of the economy, control over the media, and as much repression as the situation has demanded.

    He is accused of at least four political murders and has imprisoned dozens of political opponents

    Will Lukashenko remain in power?

    The ‘last dictatorship in Europe’, as it is so often called, is in a fragile state.

    Years of oppression of the Belarusian people has left the national psyche in tatters, and international condemnation doesn’t come without sanctions – most likely to be coming from the EU if any do.

    In response to the protests, the siloviki – the special state security forces – violently dispersed the crowds, resulting in around 3,000 people being detained and hundreds injured.

    What is particularly remarkable is that protests took place all over the country – this is not the uprising of some narrow or unrepresentative liberal group.

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    Ultimately, Lukashenko’s grab for power lies in the east, in old ally’s Russia.

    At the fall of the Soviet Union, other satellite countries sought to strengthen ties with the west and embrace democracy – but Belarus did not follow this path.

    Lukashenko took a three-prong approach to leadership: he restored the old Soviet economic system with only marginal market economic elements; gradually increased political repression; and further developed close political relations with Russia.

    By and large, he adopted the program of the communists that he had defeated – and the remaining states with sympathies closed ranks behind him.

    But now, relationships have grown frosty between Belarus and Russia.

    Putin has refused to support the country economically after Lukashenko refused to sign a “union” agreement with Russia in January.

    The close electoral shave will likely please Putin – if Lukashenko is forced to cling to power, it is much more likely to make him a very dependable ally to Moscow in his weakened state, which will allow Putin to put his foot down and demand progress toward a union state between the two countries.

    In more recent years Lukashenko has turned to the west for help to counterbalance the influence of the often all-powerful Russia in the country, but this has been limited due to the west being anchored in democracy and economic freedom.

    Most importantly, the Belorussian people have had enough – the pro-democracy movement that has emerged reflects a national awakening that is unlikely to go away, even if a temporary crackdown proves possible after the election result.

    At this moment, the dictator looks more delicate than ever, and it running out of directions to turn for help.


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