Exit poll: Belarusians in Estonia pick opposition leader over Lukashenko ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

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Protesters called for free elections outside the Belarusian Embassy in Tallinn on June 29.
Protesters called for free elections outside the Belarusian Embassy in Tallinn on June 29. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A survey conducted by Belarusians living in Estonia shows opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the most popular candidate in elections held in Belarus on August 9. However long-time president Alexander Lukasheko appears set to continue in his role.

Exit poll abroad - Estonia, a project conducted by Belarusians in Estonia, questioned Belarusian voters about their choice after they had cast their ballots on Sunday. Voting took place at the Belarusian embassy in Tallinn.

The project's official results were published early Monday morning showing 345 voters in favor of the opposition candidate and 271 votes cast for Lukashenko. In total, 648 ballots were cast at the Tallinn embassy, according to data collected by the organization. This means 53.2 percent of the votes were cast in favor of Tikhanovskaya and 41.8 percent for Lukashenko.

Preliminary polls published on Sunday evening on the group's Facebook page (shown below) showed large-scale support for Tikhanovskaya, with close to two-thirds of respondents saying they voted for the opposition candidate.

Final results for all 25 cities polled by the organization can be seen here.

On Monday, the Belarusian Central Election Commission said the results of the election showed Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, received 80.23 percent of the total votes with Tikhanovskaya winning only 9.9 percent. The results sparked protests across Belarus on Sunday night which saw clashes between police and protesters.

The opposition candidates and their supporters, along with many European Union countries, including Estonia, have repeatedly stated that they expected the vote to be rigged.

The lead-up to the election saw a crackdown on activists and journalists and opposition candidates jailed and banned from running amid the country's biggest opposition demonstrations in years. Belarusians in Estonia also protested for free and fair elections on June 29.

Tikhanovskaya announced her intention to run for president in place of her husband, an internet figure known primarily for his activism against the incumbent president, after he was arrested on May 29.

After gaining support from many prominent opposition politicians and citizens, she was registered as an independent candidate.

Election legitimacy in Belarus has long been a topic of discussion, with the leadership of the country repeatedly receiving sanctions from the EU and the U.S. for human rights violations.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) posted on Twitter on June 20 that he is worried about crackdowns on activists and journalists in the lead-up to the election.

On July 16, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Estonia continues to express concern over the restrictions on peaceful gatherings and freedom of speech ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus.

"In recent days, peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists have been detained. It is regrettable that ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, the authorities of Belarus have not ensured the rule of law nor a competitive political environment, and are obstructing the registration of potential candidates. These disproportionate and unwarranted restrictions are not compatible with international standards.

"We call on the authorities of Belarus to ensure free and fair presidential elections and immediately release the human rights defenders, activists, journalists, political opponents and peaceful protesters, ensuring their fundamental rights."

Reinsalu, Kaljulaid urge authorities to respect freedom of speech and human rights

Around noon on Monday, Reinsalu posted on social media that he is very concerned over developments in Belarus and he urges authorities to refrain from violence.

Reinsalu wrote: "It's utterly important that Belarus respects freedom of speech and assembly."

On Monday, President Kersti Kaljulaid urged the Belarusian authorities to avoid using force against peaceful protesters, respect freedom of speech and human rights.

Writing on Twitter about the Militsiya military law enforcement patrols on the streets of Belarus, Kaljulaid said: "Following yesterday's elections, I urge Belarusian authorities to avoid using force against peaceful protesters, respect freedom of speech and human rights, because this is the way we do it in Europe. This is a time for dialogue - the only way towards a democratic & fair society."

MEP Urmas Paet (Reform) wrote on Monday that the European Union had hope that things would change in Belarus this election cycle and that the country would be more open.

Paet said: "But Lukashenko and his Belarusian regime will not change because dictators do not change. He has crossed the line where he thinks there is no coming back."

He added Lukashenko knows his back is against the wall but an end to his presidency might also lead to him losing his freedom or home country, meaning prison or exile in Russia.

The former culture and foreign affairs minister added: "Recent 'so-called' elections in Belarus were much more to [Lukashenko] than just remaining in power. It was a fight for personal existence.

Paet concluded saying the European Union should not let itself be manipulated by the authoritative regime and the EU's, and Estonia's, duty is to not let the regime close [society's] mouth again. If the EU is not successful in supporting freedom in its close proximity, then where else? Timing is everything!"

Freedom House says Belarus is an authoritarian state in which elections are openly orchestrated and civil liberties are tightly restricted.  

Reporters Without Borders ranked Belarus 153 out of 180 countries in this year's Press Freedom Index. Estonia was ranked in 14th place.

Militsiya on the streets of Minsk

Anton Aleksejev, ERR Moscow correspondent, reported on Sunday evening that the atmosphere in Minsk was still calm. but opposition supporters were preparing for a strike and possible sanctions imposed by the state in the coming days in response.

Aleksejev added that there were a lot of police and Militsiya visible on the streets of the capital.

State news agency Belta announced late on Sunday that the Militsiya are getting the opposition demonstrations under control, after large-scale protests broke out in mid-town Minsk.

According to eyewitness reports, many people have been injured on the streets of Belarus' capital, with the Militsiya using stun grenades and water cannons.

Spokespeople for the military police law enforcement agency in Belarus stated they currently have no data available about injured protesters.

According to the BBC, internet monitoring group NetBlocks earlier said connectivity had been "significantly disrupted" across Belarus, with the situation worsening throughout the day and creating an "information vacuum".

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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