Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko Agrees to Early Election if U.S. Will Also Hold One

Embattled Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko won't step down from his position, but he's open to holding an early election on one condition—that the United States hold one on the same day.

Lukashenko's election victory last August was met with protests and international outrage, including from the United States, that the vote was neither free nor fair. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, his main challenger, refused to recognize the results because of the alleged manipulation, and in October she threatened to call a strike if he didn't step down.

Lukashenko, who has been called Europe's last dictator, is serving his sixth term in office. On Friday, he said he was ready to hold an early election "simultaneously with the United States."

"As soon as the United States calls early presidential election, we will call the election in Belarus the same day," he said, according to Belta, a state-run media outlet. "We can hold this election. The United States will never agree on reelection."

belarus lukashenko election early united states
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during the Eurasian Economic Union Summit on December 20, 2019, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

After the results were announced, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed the protesters and criticized the election, saying it was rife with fraud. He specifically called out the restrictions on ballot access and independent observers at polling stations, as well as intimidation tactics used against opposition candidates and the detention of protesters and journalists.

This past December, the United States levied sanctions on Belarusian officials and four offices for "undermining" democracy in the Eastern European country.

"The United States continues to support international efforts to independently investigate electoral irregularities in Belarus, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that has followed," Pompeo said in a statement. "We stand with the brave people of Belarus and support their right to free and fair elections."

Along with facing criticism for manipulating results to remain in power, Lukashenko has been lambasted by the international community for his violent crackdown on protesters. More than 30,000 people have been detained over five months of protests, according to The Hill.

While in exile for her safety, Tikhanovskaya has kept up her fight for a new Belarus and continues to speak out against the election.

"I know that the Belarusian people are not giving up. They have this inner demand for demonstrations because they want to build a new country. They want new elections," she told NPR in March. "This is the beginning of a second wave of protests."

Lukashenko has pushed back on calls for him to turn over power, claiming he won 80 percent of the vote. On Friday, he criticized America's election system, claiming that ballots for former President Donald Trump were discarded. He also took issue with mail-in ballots, a measure he "cannot easily" imagine allowing in Belarus.

While the United States and the European Union have refused to recognize Lukashenko as Belarus' legitimate leader, he's received support from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment on Lukashenko's early-election offer but did not receive a response in time for publication.