Voting is underway in a presidential election in Belarus amid allegations of vote-rigging and warnings of a clampdown on protests by the authorities. The vote pits President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for twelve years, against liberal opposition candidates. Lukashenko is expected to win by a big majority but the opposition claim the election will be fraudulent. They have called for peaceful demonstrations when the polls close.
But Lukashenko has warned any attempt to stage a popular uprising like that which toppled former governments in Ukraine and Georgia will be crushed. The main opposition challenger Alexander Milinkevich has said that is not their aim. The West echoes his concerns. Both the EU and the US vow to boost sanctions against Belarus if independent observers say the vote is unfair.
Milinkevic and his allies have strong support in the capital Minsk and among the young. Lukashenko enjoys backing in provincial towns and rural areas. Opposition members were detained during the campaign and its leaders complained of harassment on a daily basis. The tensions continue on polling day – the offices of one party were evacuated by police claiming explosives had been planted in the building.
One report said OSCE election monitors were taken away by police but that has not been confirmed. With Milinkevic promising to not let what he calls another rigged ballot go unopposed the stage is set for a potentially violent confrontation between the government and its opponents.