Twists and Turns of Belarus’s Unusual Electoral Campaign

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 79

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka speaking at Minks Tractor Factory, May 29 (Source:

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka spoke with the workers of the Minsk Tractor Factory, on May 29 (ONT, Belta [1] [2], May 29). Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Lukashenka stated, “I am still of the opinion that it is more than just a disease. A disease is half of the issue or even less. Everything else is politics.” The Belarusian leader recognized that his policy of not imposing a quarantine was not to the liking of other countries. “And some even pushed for it… So, imagine we brought the economy to a halt. Then, in order to turn it around, we would need money. And who has money? America, China, Russia has a little bit, too, and some others. They will bring you the ruble [i.e., money] and say, ‘You get the ruble, and we get the factory.’ This is what that was all about,” he claimed. In addressing the current epidemiological situation in Belarus, Lukashenka noted that some hospitals, initially reprofiled to serve exclusively COVID-19 patients, are already beginning to return to their routine work within their specialization. “This suggests that we are slowly prevailing.”

The second newsworthy issue touched upon by the president was the election campaign. To the question about his attitude toward the other presidential hopefuls, Lukashenka replied that the only rival he knows personally is his former aide Valery Tsepkalo. “But he is crafty. He would not say why the president fired him [as the director of the High-Tech Center back in March 2017]. Ask him yourselves why I fired him. Let him honestly respond. But then he would not want to continue his campaign. So, he will not tell you honestly. And we know why but do not want to deal with compromising material at the moment.”

Incidentally, in his own interview, published a day earlier (, May 28), Tsepkalo suggested he was fired because he vigorously defended Victor Prokopenya, a successful information technology (IT) entrepreneur, who, in 2015 was briefly imprisoned for making a profit from an unregistered business venture.

In his conversation at the Tractor Factory, Lukashenka also declared that Victor Babariko, yet another presidential hopeful, lied when he said that he had been offered the post of prime minister in exchange for withdrawing from the race (, May 25). Lukashenka playfully suggested that, in Belarus, he alone could have made such an offer, which he did not; rather, such an offer could in fact be made in one other country, but they have already appointed Mikhail Mishustin (prime minister of the Russian Federation since January). That way Lukashenka both discredited the alleged liar and hinted about who stands behind him. The opinion that Russia engineered Babariko’s campaign is entertained by some opposition-minded voices, too (Nashe Mneniye, May 27).

Finally, Lukashenka dismissed the popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, affixing to him the epithet “scabby,” typically used in relation to homeless dogs, and suggesting he was a troublemaker also funded by Russia. Tikhanovsky conducts the YouTube vblog Country Suited for Life, which incites protests and has called Lukashenka a cockroach to be killed with one’s slipper. He was denied registration as a presidential hopeful, but his wife Svetlana stepped in. Upon his release following a brief jail term, Tikhanovsky has been touring the country, collecting signatures in support of his spouse’s candidacy. But in the evening of the same day, May 29, Tikhanovsky was apprehended by police in the city of Grodno after a skirmish with an officer that the blogger’s supporters say was set up (, May 30).

Lukashenka’s wrath may have been sparked by Tikhanovsky’s extensive interview to Russia’s Kommersant daily, published one day earlier. In it, Tikhanovsky declared that while he wholeheartedly supports peaceful protests, many of his backers are opting for partisan warfare in case Lukashenka is again declared the winner of the elections with some unrealistically high percentage of votes cast for him (Kommersant, May 28). Accompanying the interview, Kommersant posted a companion piece that featured the opinion of Artyom Shraibman, one of Belarus’s most popular commentators. In particular, he argued that the current campaign has morphed into a blanket assault on the government. Whereas Babariko’s and Tsepkalo’s messages resonate with urban educated class, Tikhanovsky targets Lukashenka’s usual base of support (i.e., residents of medium and smaller towns that are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis) (Kommersant, May 28).

Shraibman also evaluated the electoral situation in Belarus on his own Telegram channel. According to the analyst, there is an unusually high level of expectation for change in Belarusian society. This is because “the collective attempts of different forces put the powers that be under political stress.” This stress provokes the power vertical’s foolish mistakes, such as the decree on social parasites that had to be undone several years ago, and those mistakes fuel the protest even more (, May 29). As a further example of a glaring mistake by the authorities, Shraibman subsequently referred to the purportedly blatant deceit on the part of law enforcement that led to Tikhanovsky’s arrest on May 29. Some critics on social media networks, however, suggest that Shraibman’s overarching characterization of the “collective attempts of different forces” deliberately glosses over the alleged fact that most of those forces have their origin to the east of the Republic of Belarus.

Whether or not this criticism is valid, the overall stress seems undeniable as are its three domestic drivers: the recession, the government’s response to the pandemic, and particularly Lukashenka’s exceptional longevity at the helm of power. Following the closure of IISEPS, the only polling agency that published quarterly survey-based popularity ratings of the sitting president, there is no reliable database to fall back on. Certainly, his rating is well above the 3 percent he garnered from respondents to the online survey posted on (Nasha Niva, May 26); for comparison, 58 percent voted for Victor Babariko and 18 percent for Valery Tsepkalo. The 33,000 registered votes were cast by readers whose overall representativeness of Belarusians at large is highly questionable. That said, Lukashenka’s true rating may nonetheless be no higher than 29.5 percent—the final popularity rating of the president that the now-defunct IISEPS published in June 2016, prior to its banning by the authorities (Belsat, May 31, 2019).

By all accounts, the run-up to election day, on August 9, promises to be eventful.