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Belarus’ parliamentary elections are seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential election, in which the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenka, is expected to be the only viable candidate.

Lukashenka’s promise to run again – repeated on February 25 after he voted – was not seen as an off-the-cuff comment.

“Tell them (the opposition) that I am going to (run)”, Lukashenka said in response to a question about the 2025 presidential election, according to BelTA, adding that there could be pressure from the opposition to hold elections earlier, but voters should not worry because the elections will be held “in the manner necessary for Belarus”. “

There is expected to be no real opposition candidate in the race, and if there is an alternative to Lukashenka, it will only be nominal. Lukashenka has been in power since 1994, and under his rule Belarus has become an increasingly repressive state, described by some Western diplomats as “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

Belarusian election authorities said earlier that all 110 mandates in the lower house of parliament had been filled following the closely controlled parliamentary elections on February 25, which took place under tight security.in the middle of calls for a boycott by the country’s beleaguered opposition.

The Central Election Commission said Voter turnout was nearly 74 percent, amid reports of people being intimidated into going to polling stations against their will.

The vote was criticized by the US State Department, which called it a “sham” election held in a “climate of fear”.

Only four parties, all of which support Lukashenka’s policies, have been officially registered in the elections: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice. A dozen parties were refused registration last year.

The crisis in Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who claimed her victory over Lukashenka in the 2020 presidential election was stolen, called the elections a “farce” and called for a boycott, saying the regime had not allowed only “puppets” on the ballot.

Tsikhanouskaya participated in a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 26, recalling that the situation in Belarus remains serious and that thousands of political prisoners are suffering in prisons in inhumane conditions.

The international community’s response to the crisis in Belarus and similar repressive regimes must be decisive and unwavering, she said. saidand any measures taken against these regimes should have a real impact on the ground.

The general elections were the first held in Belarus since the 2020 presidential election, which gave Lukashenka a sixth term. More than 35,000 people have been arrested during the months of mass protests following the controversial elections.

Ahead of voting in parliamentary and local council elections, the country’s Central Election Commission announced a record number of early votes, which began on February 20. Nearly 48 percent of registered voters had already voted by Feb. 24, according to the commission, eclipsing the nearly 42 percent of early votes recorded for the contentious 2020 presidential election.

Early voting is widely seen by observers as a mechanism used by Belarusian authorities to tamper with elections. The Belarusian opposition said the early voting process allowed vote manipulation, with ballot boxes going unprotected for a period of five days.

The Vyasna Human Rights Center claimed that many voters, including students, soldiers, teachers and other civil servants, were forced to participate in early voting.

“The authorities are using all available means to ensure the desired result – from broadcasting television propaganda to forcing voters to vote early,” said Vyasna representative Paval Sapelka. “Detentions, arrests and searches take place during the vote.”

Belarusian authorities have stepped up security on streets and at polling stations across the country, with Interior Ministry police conducting exercises on how to deal with voters who might try to violate restrictive rules imposed for voting. elections.

For the first time, curtains were removed from voting booths and voters were barred from taking photos of their ballots – a practice encouraged by activists in previous elections in an effort to prevent authorities to vote. manipulate the vote count.

Polling stations were guarded by police, as well as members of a youth law enforcement organization and retired security personnel. Armed rapid intervention teams have also been formed to deal with possible disruptions.

Lukashenka this week alleged without providing evidence that Western countries were considering ways to stage a coup and ordered police to step up armed patrols across the country to ensure “public order.”

For the first time, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were denied access to monitor voting in OSCE member Belarus.

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