Belarus refuses to register jailed Lukashenko rival for presidential run

The Belarusian central electoral commission on Tuesday refused to register the imprisoned main rival to President Alexander Lukashenko as a candidate for the country's presidential election on 9 August, news wires reported. A new wave of opposition candidates are seeking to unseat the 65-year-old strongman leader of the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, who is seeking his sixth term as president.

Lukashenko’s strongest election rival Viktor Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker, was arrested last month over suspected financial crimes and is incarcerated in the prison of the KGB security service. He has been recognised by rights group Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. The electoral commission unanimously voted against his candidacy after the chairwoman Lidiya Yermoshina 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.

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.

Belarus has seen a turbulent summer of protests and arrests of would-be opposition candidates. 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 Sergei Tikhanovsky, 41, was barred. He 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 OSCE, an international election and war monitor, has not recognised any elections in Belarus as free and fair since 1995.

The August vote will be held despite the country of 9m people confirming more than 65,000 coronavirus cases. Lukashenko has refused to impose a strict lockdown.

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