Belarus’ main opposition candidate has rejected preliminary election results giving the country’s longtime President a landslide victory, as protests flared up for a second night.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya demanded a recount after the country’s Central Election Commission announced that Alexander Lukashenko had won with 80.23% of the vote, while Tikhanovskaya stood at 9.9%.
“I believe my own eyes, the majority was for us,” Tikhanovskaya said in a news conference on Monday, according to multiple local media reports. “We do not recognize the election results. We have seen real protocols. We urge those who believe that their voice was stolen not to remain silent.”
The 37-year-old said that she was ready to meet Lukashenko to discuss bringing “peaceful change of power.” She later “left to an unknown location” according to her campaign.
Riots erupted after official exit polls were released late Sunday, showing a victory for Lukashenko, and resumed the following day.
Around 3,000 people were detained and dozens injured during clashes with police, the interior ministry said in a statement seen by state-run news agency Belta.
On Monday, Lukashenko said he would not “allow the country to be torn apart,” claiming that the protests were initiated by “foreign puppeteers,” Belta reported.
“So Lukashenko – who is at the top of the vertical of power, the head of the state, voluntarily, with 80% of the votes – must transfer power to them? This is all coming from abroad,” he said.
He added that law enforcement would not back down before protesters. “Riot officers were wounded, there are broken arms and legs. These guys were deliberately hit and they have pushed back. Why sob and cry now? The response will be adequate,” Lukashenko said.
Amnesty International has condemned the police’s response to protesters in Minsk.
Meantime, Twitter said Monday it was seeing “blocking and throttling” of its platform in Belarus in reaction to the protests.
NetBlocks, an NGO that tracks internet shutdowns worldwide, said in a tweet Monday: “It has been almost 24 hours since Belarus fell largely offline after a series of worsening internet disruptions during Sunday’s elections.
A controversial election result
Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and independent observers say the vote was marred with widespread ballot stuffing and falsifications.
Independent monitoring group “Honest people” said at Tikhanovskaya’s news conference that, according to its data, she won in at least 80 polling stations across Belarus.
Monitoring organization Golos said it counted more than a million ballots and, according to its calculations, Tikhanovskaya won 80% of the vote.
Late on Monday, Tikhanovskaya “left to an unknown location” after filing a complaint at the Central Elections Committee building, her press secretary Anna Krasulina said in a live on-air interview with MBkH media.
“She went inside the Central Elections Committee building, the team and the journalists stayed outside. There’s a waiting hall inside and she entered with the lawyer,” Krasulina said.
“Then she was alone for two to three hours having a conversation without the lawyer [inside the CEC building]. Then Svetlana came out to the lawyer, said that she made up her mind, said goodbye to him. Then she was escorted through a different door and left to an unknown location.”
Tikhanovskaya’s campaign later said they were back in touch with her and she was “all right,” but did not supply any further details.
‘Seriously flawed’ elections
Many Western nations condemned the election.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was “deeply concerned about the conduct of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, which was not free and fair.”
He added, in a statement,”Severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists marred the process.”
The UK government urged Belarus to “refrain from further acts of violence” following the “seriously flawed” elections.
“The violence and the attempts by Belarusian authorities to suppress protests are completely unacceptable,” Foreign Office Minister James Duddridge said in a statement Monday.
The statement continued: “There has been a lack of transparency throughout the electoral process in addition to the imprisonment of opposition candidates, journalists and peaceful protestors.”
In a written statement as part of a news briefing, the French Foreign Ministry said on Monday: “Results must be made public in a complete and transparent manner.
“We are also noting with concern that protesters who demonstrated after the closure of polling stations have been met with violence, and we call for maximum restraint.”
The UK and France both expressed concern over Belarus’ failure to allow the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe to observe the electoral process.
‘Europe’s last dictator’
Tikhanovskaya, a former English tutor, became an unexpected rival to Lukashenko, and the face of the opposition after taking over from her husband, Sergey Tikhanovskiy, a popular YouTube blogger and former candidate who has been jailed since May.