‘Europe’s last dictator’ sweeps to power again

A WWII veteran signs the required documentation before casting his ballot at one of the polling stations during early voting at the Presidential election 2015 in Belarus. Picture: PA
A WWII veteran signs the required documentation before casting his ballot at one of the polling stations during early voting at the Presidential election 2015 in Belarus. Picture: PA
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BELARUS president wins fifth term in office after securing over 83% of vote

Alexsander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, has swept to a fifth term in office following presidential elections that once again cemented his autocratic rule over a country he has dominated since 1994.

The 61-year-old ruler won the election with a landslide victory of 83.5 per cent of the vote which humiliated the few people who ran against him. Opposition politician Tatiana Korotkievich came second with just 4.42 per cent.

Many of the country’s more established leaders of Belarus’s divided and often persecuted opposition movement had boycotted an election they dismissed as a sham.

“This is a mockery of the people, of the citizens of Belarus,” said Uladzimir Neklyayev, who ran in the 2010 elections. “We call on the international community to brand what happened on October 11 as such, and under no circumstances to recognise the election results.”

Mr Lukashenko, who was described as “Europe’s last dictator” by the administration of President George Bush, has maintained an iron grip on power in the former Soviet state, jailing opponents, controlling the media and sometimes using the blunt force of the police to crush public dissent to his rule.

Kent Hasted, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission for the election, said in a statement that it was “clear that Belarus still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its democratic commitments.”

“This underscores the need for the political will to engage in a comprehensive reform process,” he added, but he stopped short of issuing any harsh criticism and even offered some muted praise for the government for allowing the candidates to campaign unhindered.

Sergei Lebedev, head of the monitoring mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States, cast the elections in a different light.

“The elections met democratic principles and were transparent, open and competitive,” he said. The authorities of Belarus and the election commissions at all levels ensured the fulfilment of the rights of citizens to free expression of will.”

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said: “As far as we could observe from Berlin, there has also not been the level of repression around the time of the elections that we have seen in the past.” He added that the level of support for Mr Lukashenko came as “no surprise”.

The Belarusian president has portrayed himself as a man who has brought and maintained a level of stability to his country, and ensured a reasonable level of prosperity for its people despite Belarus being marginalised by the West.

He has also profited from the chaos and war in neighbouring Ukraine. Belarusian media has made much of the problems plaguing Ukraine, and so underlined a common perception that Mr Lukashenko is the only man who could steer the country through the dangerous waters of Eastern Europe.