Belarusian protesters and riot police have clashed in Belarus’ capital Minsk and other cities, after a state TV exit poll was revealed. People in the country voted on whether to grant their authoritarian president a sixth term in office on Sunday, August 9. The election pitted President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the man who has ruled the country for a quarter of century. But what did the results reveal?
A preliminary exit poll has given Belarus’ longtime authoritarian leader nearly 80 percent of the vote, according to Russian media reports.
The main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya received 6.8 percent of the vote based on the official exit poll.
The polls closed at 7pm CET (6pm BST), but voting will continue as people continued to queue in the capital city Minsk.
The election campaign has been shaken by months of protests across the country and hundreds of detentions.
- Violent protests erupt in Belarus as Lukashenko’s re-election looms
Alexander Lukashenko is expected to claim victory according to the latest exit polls.
He has consolidated immense power over his 26 years in office, but in recent weeks has incurred anger over vote rigging which is likely to trigger a backlash.
The opposition candidate for president was forced into hiding the night before challenging the president in the country’s most unpredictable election in a generation.
Authorities detained the campaign manager of main opposition candidate, who became a candidate after her husband was jailed.
Veronika Tsepkalo, who worked closely with the opposition candidate, also fled for Moscow.
Ms Tikhanovskaya reportedly left her apartment after police detained two senior staffers and seven other campaign members in what they called an attempt to scare the opposition before the vote.
She then re-emerged at a polling station on Sunday afternoon alongside an entourage of campaign staff and journalists who were there for her safety.
Her press secretary told reporters: “We can’t defend ourselves physically against armed people or the security services.
“This is the most trustworthy defence we have.”
At a Minsk polling station, Mr Lukashenko played down the threat posed by a united opposition.
He said: “They’re not even worth launching reprisals against.”
Ms Tikhanovskaya said she did not trust the election results and said she had expected the vote to be rigged.
She said: “I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us.”
The opposition said it would keep an alternative count of the votes because it did not trust the election not to be rigged.
The Central Election Commission in Belarus said there was 79 percent turnout by 6pm CET (5pm BST).
The head of the election commission Lidia Yermoshina called on the losing presidential candidates to accept defeat calmly.
In addition she urged contenders to congratulate the winner and not “agitate” the masses.
She said: “In my opinion, it is a big political deception of the voters for the sake of discrediting results of the election. I’ve said it many times.
“In essence they are creating a shadow Central Election Commission, some agency that can count votes from the voters willing to submit their votes.
“All of it will be later touted as some alternative sample.
“Attempts will be made to extrapolate the results onto the entire territory of the country. And it is the linchpin for staging mass riots.”
In Minsk, the police used stun grenades to disperse crowds in the city centre.
Local media have reported several injuries as a result of these clashes between protesters and police.
Witnesses and correspondents say the riot police used rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.
Footage has emerged of protesters fighting riot police in the capital, and media reports say a number of people have been arrested.
Speaking of Mr Lukashenko crowds on the streets have been chanting “Go away!”
Similar protests were staged in the cities of Brest and Zhodino.
The presidential election in Belarus has been recognized as valid, local media has revealed from Ms Yermoshina.
According to the CEC chairwoman, voter turnout has exceeded 50 percent in all the regions except for Minsk.
As of 12pm CET (11am BST) voter turnout in Gomel Oblast and Mogilev Oblast exceeded 60 percent.
She said: “The figure also includes those, who cast their votes during early voting.”
All in all, 5,767 polling stations have been set up for the presidential election, including 44 abroad.
Official results are expected to be announced on Monday for the first round of the election.
To win a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright in the first round according to electoral rules in Belarus.
The full list of Belarus’ presidential candidates includes Andrei Dmitriyev, Anna Kanopatskaya, Aleksandr Lukashenko, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Sergei Cherechen.