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Rainer Bobon and Malwina Gebhardt

Election Day in Vilnius

Dusk is slowly falling over the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius. It is 6.14 p.m., the polling station No. 98 inside the building has already been open for more than ten hours. A family is taking a post-voting picture in front of the formidable palace that hosts the Embassy. Inside, it is very calm. No concerts or dancing, no cheap alcohol as in many polling stations around Belarus. Instead, a big flat-screen TV in the corner of the foyer shows Lukashenko on Belarusian state TV. A bearded man makes use of the Embassy’s extended opening hours to ask questions about his children’s chances to obtain a Belarusian citizenship.

From time to time, people drop in to cast their vote. One of them is Marina, a student at the Belarusian European Humanities University in exile in Vilnius. It is her first voting. “My friends are ignoring the elections”, she says. “They want the voter turnout to be low which would allow to delegitimize the election. But I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to vote. Even though the result is already determined”.

Five more possibilities to vote in Lithuania

According to the official protocol, 193 of 326 persons registered at the polling station No. 98 have already used the possibility to vote early. “In total, about 500 people came to vote here by now”, says a member of the precinct’s electoral commission. “While only a part of the Belarusians living in Lithuania are registered with the Embassy, every Belarusian citizen who stays here legally can vote. You just need your passport and a proof that you are in Lithuania legally. Therefore the number of actual voters is much higher than that of registered ones”, the election commission member explains.

As the polling station in the Embassy is the only one in Lithuania, on the voting day the election commission sends some of its members to other cities with mobile ballot boxes. Thus, among around 500 votes cast so far there is already a certain percentage from Druskininkai. The ballots from Kaunas have not arrived yet. In total, apart from Vilnius it was possible to vote in five other Lithuanian cities.

Establishing the actual voting turnout is difficult

According to the Belarusian Central Election Committee (CEC), the voting turnout abroad reached 77.69 percent at 6 p.m., which is close to the Belarusian average of 81.77 percent at that time. But even CEC head Lidia Yermoshina admitted today that this is not the whole picture, since many Belarusian citizens staying abroad only short-time were not registered with the embassies.

When those people vote abroad, they are counted in a different list that does not influence the overall turnout numbers. This makes establishing the real voting turnout of Belarusian citizens living outside their home country difficult. The election commission member at the polling station No. 98 indirectly confirms: “About 2 000 Belarusian citizens in Lithuania have registered with the Embassy. But we do not really know how many more there are. When we sent out the information where people can vote, many letters came back. People often do not tell us when they move away”.

Ballot box inside the embassy (Photo: Malwina Gebhardt)


Malwina Gebhardt and Rainer Bobon currently study East European Studies in Munich.



The background image is a derivative of "Belarus" by Marc Veraart, used under CC BY.