The Republic of Belarus is an authoritarian presidential state. Its current president, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in office since July 1994. After the parliamentary elections of November 2019, the parliament is once again fully occupied by government loyalists. Official results state that all 110 parliamentary seats were won by government functionaries, diplomats and pro-government parties after an apparent 77 per cent voter turnout, meaning that the new parliament will have no members of the opposition in it. The Communist Party of Belarus holds 11 seats, the Republican Party of Labour and Justice holds 6, the Belarusian Patriotic Party 2, the Liberal Democratic Party 1, the Belarusian Agrarian Party 1 and the independents (who are strongly tight to Lukashenko) together hold another 89.
In all, the 2019 parliamentary elections were reported to be neither fair nor free. Severe human rights violations and restrictions on media are constantly reported in the country. Ballot stuffing and the rejection of opposition candidates was common practice before and during the election.
The latest presidential elections were held on August 9th 2020, and president Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory. According to election officials, Lukashenko won 80,23% of the votes, while Ms. Tikanovskaya won 9,9%. Critics are highly skeptical of these statistics, and large scale protests erupted as a reaction to the election results. These protests have been met with force by the Belarussian police, and thousands of protesters were arrested. The protests have now died down, but political instability remains.
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- 9,417,849 (World Bank 2019 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- De jure republic; de facto dictatorship
- Ruling Coalition:
- Last Elections:
- 2020 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2023 (parliamentary elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada), Belarus Party of Labour (BSDP)
As the state has turned into a strong authoritarian presidential republic, presidential elections are most important in Belarus. In part, this is related to the breakdown of opposition structures after the presidential election of 2010 and the overall internal situation in the country, which is not conducive to independent initiatives. Unfortunately, there is no indication that this situation will soon change. Changes made to the Electoral Code, which have been in force since December 2013, criminalise election boycotting. Key features of the Belarusian electoral process remained unaffected: neither the existing legislation nor its implementation provides the basis for free and fair elections. The authorities remained reluctant to conduct structural reforms considering the uncertain future of financial transfers from Moscow, particularly as Russia’s own economic situation worsened. Corruption remains a serious problem in the country as well. However, existing practices and planned legislative changes confirm the government’s agenda to identify and punish corrupt officials, rather than prevent and eradicate corruption as a sociopolitical phenomenon. Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 has ranked Belarus 107 out of 167 countries and is thereby considered rather corrupt.
Political rights and civil liberties
Systematic violation of human rights, in particular civil and political rights, continues in Belarus. Peaceful protesters are repeatedly arrested and sentenced to short periods of detention. The authorities continue to use arbitrary detentions, searches, interrogations and misdemeanour charges on bogus grounds to harass and intimidate government critics, especially journalists and opposition activists. The authorities extended sentences of several remaining political prisoners, as in the case of 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevitch. He was charged with violating prison rules and moved to a harsher penitentiary institution. These prisoners were subjected to undue restrictions, psychological pressure, and other forms of ill-treatment as punishments. They were, however, released in late August 2015 in an apparent attempt to soften Western criticism in the run-up to the presidential elections of 11 October 2015. Nevertheless, there are now new cases of political prisoners, including those arrested after the protests following the presidential election in 2020, as well as the striking example of Roman Protasevich, editor of an opposition channel. Protasevich was travelling in an airplane that flew over Belarussian airspace, with the destination Lithuania when the airplane was forced to land in Belarus and Protasevich was arrested. Mikalai Statkevich himself was also arrested again several times after participating in protests.
The use of the death penalty continues. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still has capital punishment. It has executed four people in 2018 and at least one in 2019. The Freedom House has evaluated political rights and civil liberties in Belarus with a 6.5 (1 being most free and 7 the least free).
Freedom of expression is severely restricted. The media remains largely under state control and is used to smear political opponents. Independent media outlets are harassed - including searches of their offices - and bloggers, online activists and journalists are subjected to administrative and criminal prosecution. State-run distribution outlets refuse to disseminate independent periodicals and internet activity remains closely monitored and controlled, especially after the parliament adopted amendments to the media law, enabling the Ministry of Information to shut down online news outlets. The authorities recently started using an article of the Administrative Code on “unlawful creation and dissemination of mass media produce” to prosecute freelance journalists writing for media outlets based outside Belarus, claiming that they require formal accreditation as foreign journalists with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Belarus is ranked 153 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, giving the country a very bad reputation in terms of its press freedom record.
Human Rights and Gender Equality
Human rights in Belarus are not only sometimes cast aside in politics. Also regarding LGBT+ rights human rights are violated in Belarus. Same-sex relations have been legal since 1994, but homophobia is rife and there are no anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT+ people. Some state officials, including President Lukashenko, have openly expressed homophobic views.
Activists say violence has been routine in the LGBT+ community for years, but victims rarely speak out because of the high risk of social stigmatization and the accompanying re-traumatization, even by official authorities. Furthermore, the courts in Belarus officially recognize the “hatred motive” for violent crimes, but according to Human Rights Watch homophobic motives for crime has only been recognized once.
Regarding gender equality, Belarus scores relatively well, ranking 33 out of 156 on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index 2021. Belarus has equal rights for both men and women enshrined in the constitution, and both economic and political participation are relatively gender equal for the area, with women occupying 40% of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, Belarussian culture remains conservative and gender stereotypes are pervasive. Women’s participation in senior decision-making positions remains low, and gender norms are perpetuated in families and social circumstances. Furthermore, Belarus lacks standalone legislative protections against forms of gender-based discrimination. Movements have been made in politics to create law to prevent violence in the family, but conservative groups have prevented it up until today.
For presidential elections to be valid, a turnout of 50 per cent of registered voters is required. For a candidate to be elected as president, he or she must receive more than half of the votes. If no candidate achieves this, a second election round has to be held within two weeks. The president is elected for a five-year term. Elections in Belarus are primarily regulated by the constitution, the Election Code and the Central Election Committee (CEC).
Parliamentary elections are held every four years through a simple majority vote, with the outcome decided by overall majorities in single-member constituencies for the 110 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly. In addition, the upper house of parliament, the Council of the Republic, comprises 64 members, with geographically-based representation. Members of the Council of the Republic are appointed by the President and elected in a secret voting procedure. Belarus also holds elections for local councils of deputies, who are also elected for a period of four years.
Belarus parliamentary election of 2019
On November 17th 2019, the first parliamentary elections since 2016 were held in Belarus. Official results state that all 110 parliamentary seats were won by government functionaries, diplomats and pro-government parties on a claimed 77 per cent voter turnout, which means that the new parliament will have no members of the opposition in it. During the last parliamentary elections in 2016, two opposition members won seats in parliament (Hanna Kanapatskaya, a member of the opposition United Civil Party, and Alena Anisim, an independent with links to the opposition), but neither candidate was allowed to run again in 2019.
The Communist Party of Belarus remained the largest party with 11 seats, an increase of three in comparison to the last parliamentary election in September 2016. The Republican Party of Labour and Justice remained the second largest party with 6 seats, compared to the 3 seats they won in the last election. In third place, losing 1 seat, came the Belarusian Patriotic Party with a total of 2 seats. What is notable is that three new parties entered the election, even though none of them won any seats. These parties were the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party and the Republican Party. In total, all independent candidates received 89 seats, which is 5 seats less than in the last election.
Official election results
|Communist Party of Belarus||559,537||11|
|Republican Party of Labour and Justice||355,971||6|
|Liberal Democratic Party||280,683||1|
|Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Assembly)||84,790||0|
|Belarusian Patriotic Party||75,283||2|
|United Civic Party||72,192||0|
|Belarusian Agrarian Party||46,785||1|
|Belarusian Left Party "A Just World"||37,861||0|
|Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly||23,164||0|
|Belarusian Green Party||10,592||0|
|Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party||7,905||0|
International observers and opposition
Election observers and government opponents question the integrity of the elections. The observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) said that “fundamental freedoms were disregarded and the integrity of the election process was not adequately safeguarded”. Moreover, the OSCE observers noted concerns regarding the exclusion of many opposition candidates, limited opportunity for public campaigning and shortcomings during vote counting.
The 110 seats were contested by a total of 558 candidates, of which 150 opposition candidates, who were rejected by election officials. This happened on the grounds that some of the opposition candidates’ signatures were deemed invalid by authorities.
In particular, there was a concern for the opposition candidates in regard to early voting. During this time, ballot boxes are not guarded and several independent observers reported ballot stuffing as well as vote counting without observers being present.
The most recent presidential elections took place on 9 August 2020. Alexander Lukashenka won these according to Belarus’ Central Election Committee with 80% of the votes. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya came in on the second place obtaining 10%. Hanna Kanapatskaya obtained 1.7% of the votes and Andrey Dmitriev and Siarhei Cherachen received just over 1% each. However, these results were widely denounced as the majority of the people did not believe these to be accurate. Tsikhanouskaya and her followers believe that she is the legitimate president. Mass-protest erupted immediately after the results were made public and are still going on.
|Candidate||% of votes|
|Alexander Lukashenko (Incumbent)||80 %|
|Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Belarusian Democracy Movement)||10 %|
|Hanna Kanapatskaya (United Civic Party of Belarus)||1,7 %|
|Andrey Dmitriev (Tell the Truth)||1,2 %|
|Siarhei Cherachen (Belarussian Social Democratic Assembly)||1,1 %|
|Against all candidates||4,6 %|
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was unable to observe the presidential elections in Belarus because it did not receive an invitation from the country’s authorities. In addition, it was reported that many independent observers were detained during early voting. The observers that were able to monitor parts of the elections reported numerous violations preventing them from entering the polling stations and from checking if the ballot boxes were sealed.
The international community reacted in different ways. Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan congratulated Lukashenka on his election. Poland issued a statement calling for de-escalation and said it might impose sanctions if Lukashenka would use force towards the protestors. The European Union (EU) remained silent on the matter until ten days after the elections. After an emergency summit, as a reaction to the continuous demonstrations in Belarus, the EU stated that it did not recognise the results of the elections, since they were neither free nor fair. In October, the Union made clear that Lukashenka and 40 of his high-ranking officials face sanctions over the police brutality towards the Belarussians. Their assets were frozen and a travel ban imposed.
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