Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko warned that the country would be thrown into chaos if it returned to its 1994 constitution as part of his delayed state of the nation speech on August 5 as early voting in the election gets underway.
The president looked sweaty and struggled with the speech that had been delayed from a day earlier. He admitted that he is suffering from coronavirus (COVID-19) last week and appeared with catheter in his arm last week.
Lukashenko is seeking his sixth term in the presidential election slated for August 9 and facing his biggest challenge in his 26 year in power from former housewife and now leading opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who’s campaign has united the country against him. One of her promises is to return to the 1994 constitution that Lukashenko changed and lifted the term limits on his rule.
Lukashenko warned the return to the old constitution would “destabilisation” of the country, although he stopped short of mentioning Tikhanovskaya’s name. He warned that the idea would lead to a “bath house” in which “everybody” will suffer, as far away as Vladivostok, Russia’s easternmost point.
“This could be instigated without any nuclear weapon. So I am warning those who are triggering enmity and sedition: stop doing that. Otherwise we will all perish – as far as Vladivostok,” he warned in his passionate speech on late August 4.
The president has been backed into a corner and is looking increasingly desperate. While Tikhanovskaya has rallied record large crowds who sang and danced, Lukashenko was reduced to addressing a room packed with Belarus’ security elite, many of whom had trouble keeping their eyes open; local TV coverage of the event was lampooned on social media as it showed many of the audience members falling asleep, or at least closing their eyes, while Lukashenko was talking.
Lukashenko again brought up the 33 Russian mercenaries that were arrested last week. He addressing reports that the finial destination was Turkey, as claimed by the Russian foreign ministry, which denies the men were in Belarus to formant sedition.
“It's a bunch of lies. Do not be mistaken that they were ostensibly transiting our country to somewhere else. Be it Istanbul, Venezuela, Africa and Libya. This is a bunch of lies. They gave their affidavits – they have been sent to Belarus namely with concrete tasks. They told us everything,” Lukashenka told the Belarusian legislators in the speech that was live-streamed to the nation.
Lukashenko admitted that “a new unit” of sedition instigators had been apprehended in Belarus on August 4. Having warned that in an attempt to instigate unrests and sedition in Belarus, “new technologies, billions of money” are used, Lukashenko, however, reiterated that although the detained mercenaries came from Russia, Russia will “forever” remain Belarus’ “staunchest” ally.
“That is in our roots, despite that Russia has replaced our brotherly relationships with those that two partners have. Alas, I’d say,” Lukashenko said. “In fact, Russia is afraid of losing us and China, our other friend, wants stability here too,” he added.
Lukashenko rolled out his electoral programme during the same speech. The document appeared on the website of the newspaper Zvyazda, entitled “Together for Belarus”!
In his election programme Lukashenko promised an impressive growth in salaries, which will double over the next five years. However, the head of state promises no shock therapy, but expects “improvement on what was created”.
Among other things, Lukashenko announced a referendum on changes to the Constitution, which he has promised before. It is proposed that primarily the powers of the state authorities be determined. The president also promised to eliminate the country’s dependence in oil and gas, financial and other areas, to create a “green economy”, to ensure equal rights for private and public companies.
Tikhanovskaya has also unveiled her election programme and said her main goal is to hold real fair elections with the participation of all alternative candidates.
Polls opened on August 9 for early voting, but observers worry the early votes can easily be used to stuff ballot boxes and fix the election.
“Early voting for the presidential election has started today in #Belarus. No curtains around voting booths, photo is forbidden, independent observers were not allowed in many election commissions. Early voting is considered the most straightforward way to rig an election in Belarus,” tweeted Hanna Liubakova, a Belarusian journalist.
Tikhanovskaya appealed to the citizens of Belarus not to vote early in any case and convince their friends, neighbours and acquaintances to turn out for actual vote on August 9.
Tikhanovskaya also urges people to become independent observers at polling stations and defend their voice. Many initiatives have been created for this purpose, including “Honest People”, “Right of Choice”, “Movement Truth”, “Zubr” and others.
In general, her programme is divided into blocks, which are dedicated to the work of the courts, the fight against corruption, the sector of housing and communal services, the development of local self-government, foreign policy and the economic block.
Tikhanovskaya promises to arrange reforms in healthcare, education and pensions.
With only a week of campaigning left the authorities have been throwing up bigger barriers against Tikhanovskaya. A planned second rally in Minsk on August 6 has had to be cancelled as the city government has booked out the park where the rally was supposed to be for the rest of the week to hold “musical concerts.”
Authorities in the region town of Stoubtsy have prevented on August 4 a rally in support of Tikhanovskaya, the human rights centre Viasna reported. The construction equipment was driven to the Youth stadium, where the meeting was to be held, and the “urgent unscheduled repair work” was started. The head of ideological work of the district executive committee was personally present at the stadium.
And the authorities may have mulled more sly actions to divert the nation’s attention from Tikhanovskaya.
“It must've been painful to see tens of thousands of people supporting #Tsikhanouskaya.So the authorities announced that every evening till August 8 there will be a concert on the Bangalore square. Such a coincidence that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya planned another massive rally on August 6 there,” tweeted Hanna Liubakova, a broadcasting journalist and researcher from Belarus.
Meanwhile, Sergeij Cherachan, another presidential candidate, offers structural reform of economy, creation of local self-government and development of national identity. Andrei Dzmitryieu, also a presidential hopeful, promises a transition to a parliamentary-presidential republic, limitation of terms of presidency and new elections.
This year, the Belarusian Central Election Commission (CEC) has introduced changes at some polling stations: now the booths will not be completely closed with curtains. Moreover, the citizens’ proposal to install cameras at polling stations at the expense of Belarusians does not meet the requirements of the election law, the CEC said on August, 2.
In late July, the election authorities reduced the number of observers at the stations, referring to the ‘difficult epidemiological situation in the country’. Later, CEC chairperson Lidziya Yarmoshyna proposed observers to work at polling stations in several shifts.
Despite Lukashenko’s efforts to hold things under his control, more trouble perhaps looms for him ahead. Belarus’ independent trade unions have urged on August 4 three other presidential candidates – Kanapatskaya, Dzmitryev and Cherachen – to withdraw from the upcoming election in the interest of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.