Belarus election commission refuses to register president's rival

The electoral commission unanimously voted against Viktor Babaryko's candidacy on chairwoman's recommendation.

    Babaryko has been recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]
    Babaryko has been recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

    The Belarusian central electoral commission has refused to register the imprisoned main rival to President Alexander Lukashenko as a candidate for the country's presidential election in August.

    Viktor Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker and Lukashenko's strongest election rival, was arrested last month over suspected financial crimes and is held in the KGB security service prison.

    Lukashenko, a former collective-farm chief, is seeking his sixth term as president of Belarus in the election scheduled for August 9, which will go ahead despite the country of nine million people confirming more than 65,000 coronavirus cases. Lukashenko has refused to impose a strict lockdown.

    Babaryko has been recognised by rights group Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

    The electoral commission unanimously voted against Babaryko's candidacy on Chairwoman Lidiya Yermoshina's recommendation, after she read out allegations that he failed to declare all his earnings and his campaign used financing from a foreign organisation.

    A senior official has claimed Babaryko, who formerly headed the Belarusian subsidiary of Russia's Gazprombank, is in cahoots with "puppeteers" from Moscow.

    His candidacy was rejected despite his campaign team gathering the necessary 100,000 valid signatures from supporters.

    A Babaryko representative said the accusations were part of a criminal case that has not yet been heard.

    Other hopefuls

    A new wave of opposition candidates are seeking to unseat the 65-year-old longtime leader of the ex-Soviet state.

    The commission also rejected the candidacy of Valery Tsepkalo, 55, another popular opposition figure and a former ambassador to Washington, over a lack of valid signatures.

    In a surprise twist, the commission allowed the candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed vlogger who submitted herself as a candidate after her husband was barred.

    Her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, 41, nicknamed Lukashenko the "cockroach" and his campaign slogan was "Stop the cockroach". His supporters waved slippers - often used to kill the insects - at protests.

    Tikhanovsky has been charged with organising a gross breach of public order and barred from running. He is in a police jail and faces a possible prison term if convicted.

    The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an international election and war monitor, has not recognised any elections in Belarus as free and fair since 1995.

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    The Belarus Dilemma: Fighting Europe's Last Dictatorship

    SOURCE: News agencies