An official poll said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko would have an overwhelming victory in the presidential election, after a new entrant presented a historic challenge to the powerful leader.
The poll on Sunday’s departure from state television gave Lukashenko 79.7% of the vote, with his main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya coming in second with 6.8 %. Official results are scheduled later on Sunday.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and is seeking a sixth term. But the opposition said it hoped the results would be fraudulent and some have called for protests on Sunday night.
The atmosphere in the capital Minsk is tense with police and special forces on the streets and a song of Soviet protest can be heard from the radio and car apartment.
“The streets and squares are full of angry people, calling the election a big fraud,”; said Step Vaessen of Al Jazeera, citing the announcement from Minsk.
“They are very challenging but also very scared because the riot police are operating. They are holding the people right in front of us so people are spreading around trying to escape the police.”
Vaessen said voters were angry about the results of the poll broadcast on state television. “No one believes this is the real vote because this election has a huge number of voters and tens of thousands of people attend opposition rallies.”
Voting is underway in Belarus as protests tingle Lukashenko
‘Much to us’
Late on Sunday, the main challenger Tikhanovskaya, 37, said she did not trust the poll results showing an overwhelming victory for strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
“I believe in my eyes and I see that most of us are with us,” she said at a press conference after the poll was officially announced. “We won, because we overcame our fear, apathy and indifference.”
Tikhanovskaya, a trained English teacher and home mother, launched a surprise protest campaign against Lukashenko after her husband, a famous blogger, was jailed and banned from running.
Tens of thousands of supporters attended her rallies, and many voters wore the opposition’s signature white bracelets at Sunday polling stations. “I want to vote honestly,” she said outside a polling station in Minsk.
Earlier on Sunday, Tikhanovskaya’s campaign office said one of her key allies, Veronika Tsepkalo, had left Russia out of concern for her safety.
The ex-husband of diplomat Tsepkalo, Valery Tsepkalo, was banned from standing. Maria Kolesnikova, the campaign director of former banker Viktor Babaryko, was also removed from the poll and jailed on Saturday but later released.
Demonstration after exiting exploration results
Sporadic protests broke out in major cities, including Minsk, after polling stations closed on Sunday night with long lines of potential voters still waiting to vote.
A video posted by independent news agency Tut.by shows some police beating up a small group of protesters before a mob of civilians intervened.
Witnesses said fighting broke out with police using the stun grenade, AFP news agency reported.
In Moscow, hundreds of people opposed to Lukashenko had gathered outside the Belarus embassy for a spontaneous demonstration, in which the crowd chanted, “Get out!”
Yuri Kanifatov of Moscow, who voted against Lukashenko, said: “It is unbearable to let him be in power for many years. The man should understand himself that he must leave”.
Political observers have predicted Lukashenko will vote in the absence of international observers. He won more than 83% in previous polls in 2015.
Tikhanovskaya spokesman Anna Krasulina told the DPA news agency: “It is impossible to recognize such election results.
Al Jazeera and news agencies