Today marks the second anniversary of Belarus’s infamous 2020 presidential election, in which dictator Alexander Lukashenko defied the will of the people for true democratic change to cling to power. In the two years since, the embattled opposition movement has survived against all odds, while Lukashenko has become a key supporter of Russia’s war in Ukraine and has allowed Vladimir Putin’s forces to operate from Belarus against the will of his people. It is vital that the United States and our partners support the aspirations of the Belarusian people for a say in their future, and for their country not to be used as a base for Russia’s brutal wars of conquest.
Why was the August 2020 election a turning point for Belarus? Pro-democracy leaders in the country had struggled to formulate an effective response to Lukashenko’s strongman rule for more than two decades. Yet the consequences of years of repression, corruption and misgovernance began to show in the lead-up to the election, with popular will mobilizing behind an increasingly vocal opposition movement. Lukashenko imprisoned opposition candidates, including Siarhiej Tsikhanouski and Viktar Babaryka — a third prominent candidate, Valery Tsapkala, escaped arrest by fleeing the country — in the hope that this would arrest the groundswell of support for democratic change.
Tsikhanouski’s wife, Sviatlana, bravely entered the race and ran a campaign promising to respect human rights, tackle corruption, and chart a course of democratic reform for the country. She quickly rallied opposition support and her campaign events drew thousands of Belarusians, electrifying the population. Reliable polling pointed to a close race and a likely win for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Yet, when the Central Election Commission released official results …Top