Belarus

Lukashenko expects reelection in Belarus presidential poll

Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

Belarus votes in presidential elections on Sunday. Incumbent Alexander Lukashenko is expected to win a fourth five-year term with a comfortable majority. Lukashenko, who has led the poor former Soviet republic of 10 million for the past 16 years, is running against nine opposition candidates.

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In recent months he has infuriated Russia by seeking to bring his country closer to the European Union but he also received last-minute concessions from the Kremlin ahead of the polls.

Lukashenko’s victory seems more or less guaranteed. The opposition candidates hope to muster a large protest on the central square in the capital Minsk after polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 UT).

To prevent possible rallies, the authorities have turned the square into a giant ice rink with a Christmas tree. They have warned that any protests would be firmly put down.

The opposition has already declared the elections fraudulent despite being given more freedom to campaign and access to national airtime for each candidate.

The opposition has predicted fraud in favour of Lukashenko and denounced the controversial practice of early voting.

Just over 23 per cent of Belarussians voted early, the Central Election Commission said.

State media have accused the opposition of attempting to organise a "colour revolution" similar to mass rallies that ousted regimes in Georgia and Ukraine, also former Soviet republics, after disputed elections in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

Once accused by the United States of running Europe's "last dictatorship", Lukashenko has earned notoriety for antics such as dressing his young son, reportedly born out of wedlock, in full military uniform for parades, as well as for not tolerating dissent.

US diplomats have referred to Lukashenko as a “bizarre” and "clearly disturbed" man who "intends to stay in power indefinitely", according to a WikiLeaks cable published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Friday.
 

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