Belarus is an authoritarian regime with no change in power for the last two and a half decades. The country’s political regime is repressive of political alternatives, civic and human rights activists, and independent media. The environment for activists is challenging, with civil society organisations denied registration and media websites often blocked on flimsy pretexts.
Belarus is keen to improve relations with the European Union and the United States of America, due both to geopolitical and economic vulnerabilities related to the bloated and expensive state sector in economy and its difficult relations with Russia. Liberalisation has brought temporary improvements for civil society, especially in the regions, and the opposition was recently allowed to have a symbolic presence in parliament. However, Belarus remains a repressive environment on key tenets of democratisation, such as freedom of speech and assembly, free and fair elections. With the upcoming elections, legislation has also been enacted to further suppress independent media, online debate and civil society operations. In 2019, the opposition was again expelled from parliament.
The August 2020 elections will be conducted during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the country’s leadership struggling to balance social and economic well-being with the need for an adequate healthcare policy and lockdown. The delayed response to the pandemic and the evident misinformation in official sources led citizens to turn to civil society and independent media for Covid-19-related information and services. The pandemic and the general economic crisis has led to new civic and political actors emerging in Belarus before elections.