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Fleeting moments

September 3, 2020

Protests in Belarus

Opinion

September 3, 2020

When an event reminds of another event that took place thousands of miles apart, it means that the two must have something in common. The recent elections in Belarus closely resemble in style and outcome with the elections that were held in Egypt. The most common feature between the two elections is that their leading candidates won with a thumping majority vote.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, has won again. He secured 80.23 percent of the vote, according to the Central Electoral Commission, while his opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, got just 9.9 percent. Lukashenko wouldn’t have been as much pleased with his landslide victory as Tikhanovskaya would have been shocked at getting a measly percentage of vote despite a strong vote base. But one must salute her for her resolve and marvel at her courage to face Lukashenko. On one side was a 37-year-old school teacher, a political neophyte, and on the other a seasoned player of politics. Tikhanovskaya was a 13-year-old teenager when Lukashenko first stepped into the presidency.

On the contrary, Egyptian rulers did slightly better than Lukashenko by scoring an even higher percentage of the vote. Gen Abdel Fattah El-Sisi won 97 percent of the vote in the elections held in 2014 and 2018. On the 2018 elections, Linah Alsaafin wrote an article for Al Jazeera titled ‘Abdel Fattah el-Sisi narrowly misses 100 percent of vote in Egypt’. In this election, Gen Sisi’s opponent Moustafa Mousa, who was from the same party, contested only to show the world that Gen Sisi had an opponent after all. Mousa bagged only 3 percent of the vote. That way, Tikhanovskay has done better than him by pocketing 9 percent.

Those wanting to hang on to power against the wishes of their people always have powerful backers. In the last G7 summit in France, President Trump stunned everyone when he referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as his ‘favourite dictator’, the Wall Street Journal reported.

By his remark, Trump must have surprised many in countries with true democratic values. Gen Sisi and members of his junta removed the first freely elected President Engineer Muhammad Morsi and put him in the most notorious Scorpion Prison in Egypt from where inmates usually never came out alive. Ultimately, Morsi died in a soundproof cage in the courtroom. He spent the last years of his life in prison.

Authoritarian and repressive regimes share many traits. According to the media, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Minsk, demanding Lukashenko to step down and hold fair and free elections, he took two steps. He suddenly realised that “the fatherland is now in danger. We cannot joke”, quoted the Moscow Times. He ordered the army to be deployed on the borders. Citing threat of foreign aggression is typical of autocratic rulers to silence the unrest and put down the protests. The other step he took was to instruct the judiciary to “open criminal investigation into the opposition’s Coordination Council seeking new elections and peaceful transition of power”, according to the Moscow Times.

Meanwhile, Belarus’s opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskay fled away to Vilnius (Lithuania), apprehending threat to her life since she posed the greatest challenge to Lukashenko by claiming election victory and frustrating his attempt to occupy presidency for the sixth time. But her supporters continue to protest.

Even President Putin, whose term in office will constitutionally end in 2024, wants to remain president for another 12 years – until 2036. He would then be 83 years. The lower house of the Russian parliament – State Duma – has already passed the proposal that would amend the constitution in a way that would reset Putin’s presidential count back to zero. What a coincidence! President Sisi’s term in office will also end in 2024. But through changes made in the constitution by referendum, he would be able to rule until 2030. Who says power is not the ultimate elixir of life or an addiction if you like?

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]