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3 Nov

Daryna Shevchenko (Ukraine)
Kyiv Post, 14.10.2015

Lukashenko's re-election in Belarus: free haircuts, cheap vodka and no choice

MINSK, Belarus — A middle-aged woman in a shiny dress smiles brightly to the assembled musicians. She is ready to start a concert but there are no guests.

It doesn’t stop the woman from talking to an empty classroom, as the reason for the joyous occasion was written on a blackboard: "Elections - 2015!"

"Dear guests, we are happy to start our celebration today," she says in the school that served as a polling station for the unsuspenseful Oct. 11 presidential election, won by dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994.

The authorities announced another miraculous victory, the fifth in a row, for the 61-year-old Lukashenko, who garnered an astonishing 83.49 percent of the votes. Second place went to Tatyana Karatkevich, the only pro-democratic candidate and the only female candidate in Belarus. She got 4.42 percent of votes.

Despite the reported 86.7 percent turnout, polling stations in central Minsk were almost empty on Election Day.

The government tried to lure people to the polls with free haircusts. Polling stations offered free tea. Snacks and alcohol were sold cheaply, keeping some voters at polling stations for hours.

According to the Central Election Commission of Belarus, more than 30 percent of voters cast their ballots five days before Election Day. Such early voting procedures are very difficult to observe for honesty.

Ehor Chernov, 18, employed as a singer at one of the polling stations in Minsk, was one of them. "We were asked to vote early at the university," he says. It was clear that his candidate won. "I’m very happy with the situation in the country, especially when I see what is happening with the rest of the world," Chernov said.

Belarus elections have become such farces that most candidates don’t even bother to campaign.

"Elections here are just a ritual in which the authorities re-elect themselves," said Valeriy Korablevich, a Belarus political expert. "I’m not sure if there is a single person in the country who doesn’t know how this will end.”

Karatkevich though said her real support is much higher than the vote showed — as high as 18 percent at leat according to a pre-campaigne survey, and promissed to fight for her votes.

The other two candidates — Nikolay Ulakhovich and Serhiy Gaidukevich — are pro-governmental and pro-Russian. Ulakhovich’s main message was: "Let’s live like they live in Russia!"

The radical opposition led by 2010 presidential candidate and former political prisoner Mykola Statkevich attempted to call a few protests, but didn’t get much support. Statkevich called for an election boycott.

Others simply callede Belarus’ political situation “a theater of the absurd.” But it’s one in which nobody has to wonder who is in charge.

Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at shevchenko.mdf@gmail.com

Originally published: http://www.kyivpost.com/content/russia-and-former-soviet-union/lukashenkos-re-election-in-belarus-free-haircuts-cheap-vodka-and-no-choice-2-399960.html