Smiling confident and raised fist, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya stands proudly in front of the crowd gathered to cheer her in the People’s Friendship Park in Minsk, Belarus. Thursday, at dusk, the atmosphere is festive: flags and balloons float above the human tide, accompanied by music. The event is a success. All the more so since it is the most important gathering for more than twenty years: according to the human rights organization Viasna, at least 63,000 people have come to support the candidate who is about to challenge the president Alexander Lukashenko on August 9, during the presidential election.
In a country where elections are generally done “for the sake of form”, a loss of patience and a desire for change are reflected in this exceptional mobilization. Because Belarus, a former Soviet republic landlocked in eastern Europe, does not have the features of a democracy. It is even the opposite. In power for twenty-six years, the current President Alexander Lukashenko – whose paternalism has earned him the nickname “Batka”, “little father” in Belarusian – is determined not to give up his place at the head of the country. And hopes to get a sixth term. However, the repressions he carried out against his opponents, the irregularities found in previous polls, or more recently his controversial management of the Covid-19 crisis have earned him more and more criticism.
In mid-June, businessman Viktor Babariko was touted as the most credible candidate against the incumbent. Diplomat Valery Tsepkalo was also in a favorable position, with strong popular support. Two undesirable characters for the regime, which decided to put them aside to maintain the status quo. Result: Babariko was imprisoned and Tsepkalo had to take refuge in Russia.
Despite official polls, which give him 72% favorable opinions, Lukashenko looks closely at the streets of Minsk. The latter, which have become the ground for spontaneous protests for several weeks, cast doubt on the sustainability of his reign. And at the end of July, the demonstrators have only one name: Svetlana.
“A link between our current country and a bright future”
Svetlana Tsikhanovskaïa, 37, is the wife of a dissident blogger jailed in May by the regime. This former translator was quickly propelled as Lukashenko’s main rival, taking up the torch from her husband, and rallying all the opposition around her.
On July 16, she posed for a photo alongside Viktor Babariko’s campaign manager Maria Kolesnikova and Valery Tsepkalo’s wife Veronika Tsepkalo, thus enshrining the opposition union. One raising his fist, the other two forming a victory V and a heart respectively with their fingers. An unprecedented image in a Belarus considered to be the last dictatorship in Europe. “A majority of Belarusians support Svetlana, welcomes Maria Kolesnikova, especially young people, but also families who had come to our gathering. It is also growing in popularity in the cities, whereas previously the opposition electorate was concentrated in Minsk. ”
If she brings people together, Tsikhanovskaïa does not hide from being a novice in politics: “I am not a politician, do not consider me as such”, announced the candidate at the microphone of the opposition media Echo of Moscow. Before adding: “Think of me more as a link between our current country and a bright future.” If she comes to power, the candidate will show two priorities: organize new elections, where all alternative candidates can participate, and free political prisoners.
Asked by Release Regarding Thursday’s event, Maria Kolesnikova was delighted with a benevolent atmosphere, with the police ensuring the smooth running. Far from the mass arrests of demonstrators which had marred the previous elections. “The difference is that they came to denounce the falsified results after the elections. We put pressure on the first step ”, she explains.
The turnout plays a crucial role in this election. “The situation has completely changed. We are no longer in the same country as three months ago, and many previously apolitical people now want to change things ”, explains Maria Kolesnikova. According to her, “The more voters there are, the lower the risk of falsification”.
For now, five candidates are vying for the presidential election, including two from the opposition. Is a broader alliance possible? “During our joint press conference, we proposed to the other candidates to support us, but did not receive a response from them”, explains Maria Kolesnikova. With his usual casualness, Lukashenko had declared that the Belarusian Constitution “Was not made for women”, the opposition trio intends to demonstrate the opposite.
Source: Liberation – A la une sur Libération by www.liberation.fr.
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