A major challenger to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been barred from taking part in next month's presidential election.
Valery Tsepkalo was considered one of the most credible threats to Lukashenko, dubbed Europe's last dictator.
But Tsepkalo was among nine candidates removed from the race by Belarus’ Central Election Commission (CVK).
“I can hardly call it a shocker," Alexandr Feduta, a Belarusian political analyst and journalist at Minsk-based newspaper The Peoples’ Voice told Euronews. "It could be expected. It is just a matter of time and means when all the main candidates and challengers of the incumbent president [Lukashenko] will be pushed out of the race.”
Candidates needed 100,000 supporting signatures to take part in the election, which is scheduled for August 9.
Tsepkalo, Belarus' ex-ambassador to the United States, submitted 160,000 but CVK said only 75,249 were in line with requirements.
It means there are now just six — down from 15 — runners left.
'We can expect a slew of other surprises'
As well as incumbent Lukashenko, also still in the race is Viktor Babariko, who is another considered a heavyweight challenger for the post.
But Babariko is currently behind bars. He was detained on June 18 during the reported arrest of several hundred opposition supporters.
Charges of embezzlement and fraud have been brought against Babariko, who is currently being held in a KGB detention centre in the capital Minsk.
“I am pretty sure than we can expect a slew of other surprises, when the Central Election Commission starts checking the other documents, like the income or tax reports, submitted by the race participants," said Feduta.
"The signal that Babariko is not welcome in the race has already been sent [by detaining him earlier the month].
"Frankly I am convinced that Babariko will not pass the scrutiny of his financial records. It is easy to find financial faults in Belarus with somebody who has worked in the banking sector for many years and who is well-to-do.”
Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a Belarusian political analyst, told Euronews CVK is “gradually” sifting the stronger candidates from the political minnows.
“We see that Tsepkalo has been cut today and the same fate awaits Babariko a little bit later," he said. "My guess is when the Central Election Commission will start to scrutinise his personal financial documentation.”
Asked if Belarusians will hit the streets if, following Tsepkalo, Babariko is disqualified from the race, Feduta said he did not think so.
“Unfortunately, I believe that majority of our citizens do not yet fully understand that the authorities manipulate them,” he said.
Klaskouski agrees: “I doubt if Babariko supporters will start hitting the streets, urging justice, a democratic election and so on. They are inexperienced, their network is not very strong, so the authorities won’t have much of a headache clamping down on them. One by one, like they are doing with the strongest candidates of the race.”
Who is still left in the race to be Belarus' next president?
- Alexander Lukashenko: President of Belarus since 1994.
Viktor Babariko: Ex-chairman of Belgazprombank's board. Currently in jail, detained mid-June.
Anna Kanopackaja: A lawyer and a former MP.
Sergeij Cherechnia: Chairman of Belarus’ Social Democratic Party
Andreij Dmitrijev: Co-chairman of the Speak the Truth movement
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: Wife of a prominent blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky who was barred from taking part
The final list of candidates for Belarus’ presidential race has to be announced before July 14, CVK says.