This Sunday, Belarus goes to the polls to elect a president. But even opposition candidates are sure that Aleksandr Lukashenko will remain in power.
The opposition activists are sure the election will be rigged and are already preparing to protest.
Political changes, but no change in power: that is the election rhetoric of incumbent Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
According to opposition leaders, his is the only voice that counts in Belarus.
“The election is rigged. We know that,” says Vladimir Neklyaev, presidential candidate. “The only reason we're taking part in it is to show the people of our country that we're not prepared to lose without a fight. To let them know that each day, there are more and more of us willing to stand up to Lukashenko's regime.”
Surprisingly enough, that does seem to be true.
Opposition rallies are becoming more and more frequent in the capital, Minsk, with not even the bitter cold and the fact that it is a weekday stopping hundreds from gathering in the city center.
This Sunday's election will be Lukashenko's fourth consecutive bid for power.
In the very likely event of his victory, he will continue his 16-year stretch in office, becoming the longest-serving leader since Soviet times.
"Europe's last dictator", as he has been dubbed in some Western media, really does want to last.
His opponents seem to believe he will, and they are already planning to protest.
“We are organizing people to come and protest the election results on Sunday,” says Andrey Sannikov, another presidential candidate. “We're taking thousands of people to the streets, to show Lukashenko that we are not going to accept his falsified election.”
The very fact that such plans are possible is a novelty in itself.
This is the first presidential election where opposition candidates actually have some semblance of a chance.
Free air-time, sanctioned anti-government rallies – these are a first for Belarus.
The reason is, according to some analysts, a pragmatic one.
The EU has already promised Minsk billions of euros to ensure a democratic election. With the country hard-hit by the global financial crisis, the money is certainly an incentive.
To opposition supporters, however, their chance to make a stand is worth more.
“I know people will come out onto the streets. See this snowflake? It means we believe our candidates can be the symbolic snowball that will blast our current political system,” says Andrey, an opposition supporter.
Come Sunday, their faith will be put to the test.
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