Belarus holds parliamentary elections, Tikhanovskaya hacks Minsk TV Billboards with protest message

Belarus holds parliamentary elections, Tikhanovskaya hacks Minsk TV Billboards with protest message
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya embarrassed Belarusian president Lukashenko after hacking 2,000 giant TV billboards in Minsk and broadcasting an anti-war message on the day of sham Belarus parliamentary elections. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 27, 2024

Superficially, elections for the lower house of parliament in Belarus on February 25 were won by a mix of parties and independent candidates, but in practice only tightened Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's hold on power further.

As Belarusians went to bote, exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya struck a blow for those that oppose Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during  the parliamentary elections after a group of former security officials hacked into the big TV billboards that dot the capital Minsk and broadcast a message. 

“Today, my address to Belarusians about the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine & Lukashenka's sham elections was displayed on 2000 screens in public spaces throughout #Belarus. This action was organized by BELPOL, a coalition of former police & security forces officers,” Tikhanovskaya said in a tweet. 

The official results nominally led to a significant reshaping of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly, with a majority of seats being filled by members of political parties, according to Igor Karpenko, the chairman of the Central Election Commission, TASS reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on the successful completion of parliamentary and local elections, TASS reports. 

"Dear Alexander Grigoryevich, I warmly congratulate you on the successful holding of the unified election day and the confident victory of the patriotic forces of Belarus," a telegram posted on the Kremlin website said.

"The high turnout and the results of the people's will clearly confirm the broad support for the course of harmonious socio-economic development of Belarus under your leadership, ensuring domestic political stability and promoting mutually beneficial integration processes within the Union State," the Russian leader added.

During a press conference, Karpenko detailed the new composition of parliament. "Members of political parties: 70 people, non-aligned members: 40."

The four parties all enthusiastically back long-time dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. There were no opposition parties competing in the election. Lukashenko banned or dissolved all other parties following widespread protests two years ago.

Amongst the parties, seats were won by, "the Belaya Rus party - 51 people (46.4% of the total number of deputies), the Communist Party of Belarus - seven people (6.4%), the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus - four people (3.6%), the Republican Party of Labour and Justice - eight people (7.3%)."

Due to political repression in Belarus means there are no genuine opposition parties and those parties that are allowed to exist make up the “systemic opposition” that loyally vote the president’s line when asked to.

The election, marked as the first one-day election in the nation's history, saw 110 deputies to the House of Representatives and 12,514 members to local councils elected for five-year terms. There were a total of 263 candidates competing for a total of 110 seats of parliament, alongside 18,802 candidates who vied for positions in local councils. The turnout was a high 73.09%, according to the CEC.

However, the stage-managed elections paled in comparison to the fiercely fought August 2020 elections, which were disputed by several independent candidates, including ex-banker Viktor Babariko and popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, the husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who also ran against Lukashenko. Both men were arrested on trumped up charges before the elections were held and remain in jail today. Following the vote, which saw Lukashenko returned to office, mass protests broke out that went on for months before finally fading away as winter set in.

Over the next two years, Lukashenko has cranked up his repression and crushed what little of the opposition was left. Police were reportedly arresting anyone suspected of opposition tendencies in the months before the vote.

Karpenko also highlighted the “continuity and diversity” within the new assembly, as Lukashenko’s regime struggles to claim some sort of legitimacy for the vote. Karpenko noted that "20 out of the 110 elected deputies are members of the lower house of the current convocation." The assembly also boasts, "37 women in the new composition of the Chamber, as well as an individual under 31," reflecting a “blend of experience and youth” in the governance of the nation, the head of the CEC said.

A poll found that more than 87% of the population support the current government, Lukashenko told a meeting with the Secretary General of the CIS and head of the observer mission that said the elections were legitimate and fair.

"As always, we are trying to analyse how the election is going. And we see that the current government is supported by more than 87% of the population. They definitely support it. There is a small number of people who oppose it," BelTA news agency quotes Lukashenko as saying.

The President noted that "there are also dissatisfied people. We understand this perfectly well. Therefore, in this electoral cycle, we need to reflect and draw appropriate conclusions; we need to fix some things. We don't have many such problems," Lukashenko said. “We will tighten them up and fix them over the year. And I am sure that even more people will turn out for the presidential election."  

Following the weekend’s election, the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly will be formed in late April, made up of 1,200 delegates, including members of parliament, local councils, officials, pro-government activists and others.

Lukashenko changed the constitutional in 2022 to give the formative informal body legislative power that include appointing electoral commission members and even declare martial law — a power previously reserved for the president. The assembly can also initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.

Lukashenko is believed to be preparing to move from the office of president over to head the new assembly. Moscow is believed to be keen on the change that will water down the president's powers somewhat and curb Lukashenko's excesses, as he is seen as a loose cannon by Moscow. 

The 69-year-old president has repeatedly promised to step down, but has also  ensured the president of Belarus becomes an automatic member of the assembly after stepping down. 

In January, he also signed a law guaranteeing himself immunity from prosecution should he leave office, a pension, and state-provided property rights. 

If he leaves office then Natalya Kochanova, a staunch ally of the current president and head of the parliament’s upper chamber, is seen as a potential successor — Lukashenko has called her an “almost a ready-made president," reports Politico. Kochanova is also on good terms with Putin.