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This year, Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka has worked hard to consolidate his power, knowing that he may face some uncertainty at the start of next year. In February 2024, Belarus will hold its parliamentary elections, and the turnout and outcome of this event may be a sign of things to come in Lukashenka’s Belarus. In short, Lukashenka is worried about the efforts being orchestrated by the Belarusian opposition.

 Following the protests after the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, the opposition movement has worked hard to discredit the Lukashenka administration. Many individuals within this camp have written reports and articles highlighting the atrocities committed by the Lukashenka regime. They have also put out statements urging their fellow countrymen and women to oust the current government through the ballot box, and they have encouraged Belarusian citizens to continue speaking out against the government.

 The work of the opposition group has not gone unnoticed. Over the past three years, opposition leaders have constantly met with their counterparts in the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union to discuss the democratization and future of Belarus. During these sessions, the opposition group has also highlighted known human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime. The opposition movement has even worked with Western leaders to craft sanctions that should be imposed on Belarusian government officials to punish them for their actions. This has ranged from visa restrictions for government officials to removing Belarusian banks from the SWIFT international monetary system. The belief is to put pressure on the Lukashenka administration so that it eases its hold on Belarusian society.

But the Belarusian leader has worked hard to undermine these efforts. This year, Lukashenka’s government banned several opposition political parties, meaning these organizations will no longer have representation in the Belarusian parliament. Meanwhile, some political parties that support Lukashenka and his government have also dissolved. This means that voters will have fewer options at the polls, and political parties that favor Lukashenka are more likely to gain representation in parliament.

Lukashenka has also increased his threats. He has previously threatened to use the death penalty on individuals who behave in matters that act out against the Belarusian state. Several opposition members, or individuals deemed unfavorable by the Lukashenka regime, have also been beaten and forcibly imprisoned. This has made this situation more dangerous, and several Belarusians are now hesitant to speak out against the regime, fearing for their safety. Others are hesitant to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Finally, the Belarusian government has stepped up its surveillance. Belarusian police have been known to control the streets, preventing Belarusian citizens from gathering and demonstrating. Meanwhile, the Belarusian government controls the media, meaning that opposition candidates have found it difficult to speak out against the current government. Belarusian authorities also control the voting centers. As a result, many are expecting the vote count to be rigged in favor of the Belarusian government, and the election results may even be considered a sham. The opposition movement has even stated that it will not recognize the results of the parliamentary elections, where the group will deem the election illegitimate.

With this in mind, how can Belarusian citizens oppose their autocratic government? One method is through pacifism, where thousands of voters will opt not to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections. A lower voter turnout may force the government to consider how it treats its citizens. On the other hand, if Belarusians opt not to participate in the election, this would all but guarantee victory for Lukashenka’s supporters.

Another option is for the citizens to work more closely with the opposition movement. Recently, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met with EU representatives to discuss identification for Belarusians living in exile. The proposal would be to issue documentation, such as passports, for Belarusians who oppose the Lukashenka regime, and for those who are unable to return to Belarus to renew their documents for concerns of their safety. This would allow these Belarusians to carry documentation without having to return to Belarus, where they could face jail time. The proposal, however, is in its preliminary stages and has not been recognized by other governments.

In short, the government has threatened to torture and imprison opposition leaders, and it is doing everything it can to undermine the movement. Despite these threats, the Belarusian movement remains strong and active. The group has evolved, and it is exploring how it can bring true democracy and prosperity to the country. The Belarusian parliamentary elections may be a foregone conclusion in Lukashenka’s favor, but it will be the first opportunity for the opposition to make its mark since the rigged Belarusian presidential election in 2020. Opposition leaders should continue to do everything they can to mobilize the Belarusian people against the oppressive regime. The actions of the opposition movement, and the outcome of the parliamentary elections, may be a sign of things to come in Belarus in the near future. They must seize the moment.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on X @MTemnycky