Belarus Opposition Tells Lukashenko to Step Down After ‘Illegitimate’ Election Win

August 10, 2020 Updated: August 10, 2020

MINSK—The opposition in Belarus rejected official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory on Monday, saying the poll was rigged and that talks needed to begin on a peaceful transfer of power.

Earlier, the central election commission said Lukashenko, in power for more than a quarter of a century, won 80 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, while Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, who emerged from obscurity to become his main rival, took just 9.9 percent.

Belarus election
Law enforcement officers march during clashes with opposition supporters after polls closed at the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 10, 2020. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

“The authorities are not listening to us. The authorities need to think about peaceful ways to hand over power,” said Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her blogger husband was jailed.

“Of course we do not recognize the results.”

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reacts as he visits a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus Aug. 9, 2020. (Sergei Gapon/Pool via Reuters)

Events are being closely watched by Russia, whose oil exports run through Belarus to the West and which has long regarded the country as a buffer zone against NATO, and the West, which has tried to lure Minsk from Moscow’s orbit.

The streets in the capital and other cities were quiet after violence on Sunday night, when riot police used force to disperse thousands of protesters who had gathered to denounce what they said was an electoral farce.

Tikhanouskaya told reporters she considered herself the election winner. She said the poll had been massively rigged.

Belarus election
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya holds a press conference the day after Belarus’ presidential election in Minsk on Aug. 10, 2020. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)

Her campaign rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The opposition now wants a vote recount at polling stations where there were problems, her aides said, adding that protests which turned bloody on Sunday would continue.

They said they were ready to hold talks with authorities.

‘No Revolution’

There was no immediate response to that offer from Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager who has ruled Belarus since 1994. Once dubbed Europe’s last dictator by Washington, he faces his biggest challenge in years to keep his grip on power amid discontent over his handling of the economy, COVID-19, and human rights abuses.

But Lukashenko signaled he would not step down.

Belarus election protest
Opposition supporters join protest after polls closed at the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 9, 2020. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

“The response will be appropriate. We won’t allow the country to be torn apart,” the 65-year-old leader was quoted by the Belta news agency as saying.

Lukashenko repeated allegations that shadowy forces abroad were trying to manipulate protesters he called “sheep” in order to topple him, something he said he’d never allow.

“They are trying to orchestrate mayhem,” said Lukashenko. “But I have already warned: there will be no revolution.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief and its commissioner for enlargement said the election had been marred by “disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters”.

“We condemn the violence and call for the immediate release of all (those) detained during last night,” Josep Borrell and Oliver Varhelyi said in a joint statement.

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said there were numerous indications of electoral fraud and that the EU was discussing how to react. Neighboring Poland said it wants a special EU summit on Belarus.

Russia’s RIA news agency cited the Belarusian Interior Ministry as saying that police had detained around 3,000 people during post-election protests.

Rights groups say more than 1,300 people were also detained in the pre-election crackdown, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Lukashenko on his win, however, as did Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said he hoped the Belarusian leader would deepen ties with Moscow, something Lukashenko has been resisting in recent times.

By Andrei Makhovsky