Belarusians protest en masse after two strong opposition candidates are denied registration

On 14th July Belarusian central election committee made public the list of five people registered as candidates for the presidency. Tsikhanouskaya, Kanapatskaya, Dzmitryeu, Cherachan, and Lukashenka will continue the race. Babaryka and Tsapkala, opposition candidates who submitted the most signatures, were denied registration. This brought hundreds of Belarusians to the streets of different towns, but primarily Minsk. Clashes with police and harsh crackdown lead to 289 people detained in Belarus.

CEC denied Babaryka and Tsapkala registration

The Central electoral committee conducted a hearing on each of the eight candidates who expressed their will to run for the presidency. The application of potential candidates had to include a minimum of 100,000 verified signatures and tax declaration of the candidate and their spouse. The approval of signatures conducted by local election committees was unfair, according to Tsapkala and Babaryka’s teams. Tax declaration became an issue when reviewing applications of Viktar Babaryka, Valery Tsapkala, and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Valery Tsapkala was denied registration on the grounds of having less than 100,000 verified signatures and his wife’s tax declaration. Even though Tsapkala’s team submitted 200,000 signatures, more than half of them were disqualified. Tsapkala announced his ambition to appeal in court about each rejected signature. His wife, according to CEC, possesses shares in Priorbank, her tax declaration doesn’t mention this.

Viktar Babaryka, placed in detention since June 18th, was not registered as a candidate. He became an oppositional contender with the biggest amount of signatures submitted. Almost two-thirds of them were not recognized, leaving Babaryka with 165,744 signatures. The team of Babaryka is to appeal for this in court.

Viktar Babaryka, unregistered candidate for Belarus presidential election 2020. Photo Iryna Arakhouskaya / Belsat.eu

However, the tax declaration became the most significant issue for Babaryka. The CEC relied on the letter from the committee of state control. It says that there is undoubtful proof of Babaryka’s engagement in money laundering, organization of criminal groups and foreign funding of his campaign. The court has not yet announced any decision on Babaryka’s case, and legally CEC referred to accusations without either providing evidence to the public or relying on the court decision. The fact of accusation or detention of a potential candidate, according to the Belarusian legislation, gives no grounds for refusing to register this person as a candidate.

High representative of EU Joseph Borell published a statement declaring EU’s disapproval of the CEC decisions on Babaryka and Tsapkala:

The seemingly arbitrary exclusion of candidates limits the possibility for the Belarusian people to express their will and already undermines the elections’ overall integrity and democratic nature. By denying the registration of Viktar Babaryka and Valery Tsapkala the Belarusian authorities have failed to ensure a meaningful and competitive political contest“.

The incumbent president Lukashenka was registered as a candidate with almost two million valid signatures out of 100,000 required for the registration. The CEC had no complaints about Lukashneka’s declaration.

Hanna Kanapatskaya, one of the former two oppositional deputies in the Belarusian parliament, was also approved. The day before, Kanapatskaya described Lukashenka and herself as the only two serious contenders in this race.

According to the CEC, Syarhei Cherachan (the leader of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada) and Andrei Dzmitryeu (campaign Tell the Truth) had no violation in either signatures or declarations. Both of them were registered. Dzmitryeu gave a speech where he among all other things, urged Lidziya Yarmoshyna (the head of CEC) to withdraw her complaint on political prisoner Syarhei Tsikhanouski.

Photo: Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, presidential candidate of Belarus.

Syarhei Tsikhanouski was to announce his candidacy to start collecting signatures in May. He was detained and remained in a disciplinary cell facing ill-treatment. His wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, decided to replace her husband and, on July 14th, was approved as a candidate for the presidency. The only issue like possession of house not mentioned in the tax declaration of Syarhei, was not considered a barrier to registering Svyatlana.

A political analyst, Andrei Yeliseyeu, argues that the registered candidates have two choices: to make a hard decision and withdraw their candidatures leaving Lukashenka to play his game alone or cause disapproval of Belarusians by remaining in the race.

“It is a matter of a fundamental choice that Andrei Dzmitryeu, Hanna Kanapatskaya and Siarhei Cherachan now face: to make a powerful political decision and finally undermine the legitimacy of the process called “elections,” or to bury their political potential and earn popular hatred.” wrote Yelieseyeu.

Protests sparked in Belarusian towns

After the registration results were announced at the CEC press-conference, various Telegram channels called on people to gather in the city center at 19.00. Remarkably, no opposition candidate was involved in mobilizing demonstrations. Disruptions with Telegram channels were reported in Minsk, while Youtube was working without problems.

Thousands of Belarusians appeared on the streets of Belarusian cities. Protest chains, motorbikes, bicycles, and cars expressed their discontent with the registration results by honking, riding around the city centers, chanting, and even clashing with police and internal troops.

Protest in Minsk 14 July. Photo: Uladz Hrydzin

As a result of protests on July 14th, at least 289 people were detained, some of them were soon released before court hearing or without any charges. Some believe that a group of police specifically targeted journalists. Belsat, Euroradio, Radio Free Europe, BBC correspondents were detained.

The philosopher and advocate of election boycott, Uladzimir Matskevich, believes that current protests are a positive sign, but they need coordination and leadership. This is what he wrote in his Facebook page:

Spontaneous actions. On the one hand, it’s good. This is a manifestation of public sentiment. On the other hand, spontaneity is bad, the authorities are ready for spontaneous actions. Coordination is needed now. Protest energy management is needed. It is necessary to target only sick and weak spots of the regime, instead of breaking and desperately struggling“.

Alesia Rudnik for belsat.eu

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