On the day of the presidential elections in Belarus, there are apparently massive internet problems. Many portals critical of the government were no longer accessible. Even correspondents for Russian state media complained that nothing was working anymore. "There is no YouTube, no Skype, no mail and no messenger," wrote the editor-in-chief of the Russian foreign television broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonjan, at Telegram. The news channel still works with restrictions. Videos and photos could no longer be uploaded. Many other users reported something similar.
The opposition has been warning for days of the Internet being switched off and distributing instructions on how citizens should behave in the event of network blocks. For example, there was a call for a peaceful demonstration against election fraud, with times and locations right up to instructions for suitable shoes and sufficient food.
The government authorities want to prevent the protest at all costs. Hundreds of activists and demonstrators were arrested before the election. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years and is also known as the "last dictator in Europe" and is running again, threatened to crush protests with the army if necessary. Photos of military vehicles at the access roads to the capital Minsk circulated on social networks. On election day, Lukashenko said everything was under control. "The country will not plunge into chaos or civil war tomorrow. I guarantee that."
Thousands of people critical of the government had already taken to the streets in the past few weeks. It was the largest protests in the ex-Soviet republic for years. The opposition candidate Svetlana Tichanowskaya had called for this. She is considered to be Lukashenko's most important rival and competed after her husband, blogger Sergei Tichanowski, was excluded from the election and imprisoned. Tichanovskaya employees were arrested in the hours leading up to the election. Details were not known at first. Lukashenko claimed that there was no repression of opposition members.
A total of around 6.8 million people are eligible to vote in Belarus. The almost 5,800 polling stations have been open since 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. According to the election management, the turnout around noon was 54 percent. Since Tuesday it has been possible to vote early. Critics assume massive election fraud. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decided not to have the vote observed this time.