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 in August.
A new wave of opposition candidates led protests this summer seeking to unseat the 65-year-old strongman leader of the authoritarian ex-Soviet state that borders the European Union.
The central electoral commission rejected two major opposition candidates, citing alleged violations of rules including incorrectly filled-out income declarations and a failure to gather signatures.
It unanimously voted against Lukashenko’s strongest election rival, Viktor Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker who was arrested last month over suspected financial crimes.
It also rejected the candidacy of Valery Tsepkalo, 55, a former ambassador to Washington and another popular opposition figure.
Lukashenko, a former collective farm chief, has been president for 26 years and will seek his sixth term in the August 9 election. He will stand against four candidates.
The poll is going ahead despite the country of nine million people confirming more than 65,000 coronavirus cases. Lukashenko has refused to impose a strict lockdown.
Belarus has seen a turbulent summer of protests and arrests of would-be opposition candidates, with Babaryko seen as the strongest potential opponent.
“The authorities removed the strongest candidates and left the weakest,” Radio Free Europe political analyst Valery Karbalevich told AFP.
He said that a genuine fight was possible only if the remaining opposition candidates chose a single one of them to stand, to avoid dividing the vote.
“They won’t do that. It’s been done just in the way that suits the authorities,” added.
The head of the central electoral commission, Lidiya Yermoshina, said Babaryko’s campaign team had gathered the necessary 100,000 valid signatures from supporters.
But she read out a letter from the state control committee, an audit body, saying Babaryko was part of an “organised criminal group” and failed to declare more than $4 million earned in 2019.
A lawyer representing Babaryko told the commission the accusations were part of the criminal case against him that has not yet been heard.
The electoral chief also said Babaryko had used foreign financing for his campaign, referring to the use of staff and resources from his former workplace, the Belarusian subsidiary of Russian state bank Gazprombank.