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'We must obey'. Students explain why they voted early in Belarus elections

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Illustrative image: enfilme.com

Probably everyone in Belarus knows about this polling station where 96.4% of the total 96.5% voters cast their ballots during early voting. It is located in Dormitory No 11 on the Belarus State University campus in Minsk. The winner here is Volha Tsesakova, head of the local students' council. The result is perhaps not the most impressive for a favorite - only 61.5% of votes. In fact, she gained 854 votes during early voting; only 7 people voted for her on Election Day.

This Euroradio reporter was dispatched to the polling station to talk to the students who decided to vote early and not on Election Day on 18 February.

The polling station where students were encouraged to vote early.

Uladzislau Kuzmich and Aliaksei Syrytsa are the fourth-year law school students. Uladzislau voted early while Aliaksei deliberately cast his ballot on Election Day. "The chance is smaller that votes can be manipulated," he explains.

"Why did I go to vote early? Well, we were softly warned that it is worth going there," says Uladzislau. The dormitory's building is currently under repairs for the 2019 European Games. Still, why would they suddenly start moving us to other dormitories in the middle of the year? There are better dormitories, there are worse ones. If you do not attend elections, do not cooperate with the administration, there is a chance you can end up in a remote hostel with bedbugs beyond the Minsk beltway."

"It is quite remarkable, adds Aliaksei.  I came to vote on Election Day and I ended up in a dormitory beyond the beltway. Uladzislau voted early and he secured a room in a comfortable dormitory in downtown Minsk. They have made the announcements today."

It feels empty on the scheduled Election Day.

"So we went to vote early, but the administration hinted softly how we should vote. However, we were not forced to vote for a certain candidate. You do not even feel scared or something that they will create trouble for you. You just do it because you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Yes, I do not fear that someone is infringing on my Constitutional rights and stealing my vote. This is not a problem. I couldn't care less about this election," says Uladzislau.

Mikhail Zaitsau is a third-year mathematics student. He also voted early yet he comes out of the dormitory building, the polling station venue. He explains that he "treats it with understanding" because "one must obey."

"The dormitory's administration demanded. As far as I understand, BSU [Belarus State University] got orders from above that students voted early. BSU must find ways, so it puts pressure on the dormitory administration and the latter 'encourages' students. They simply threatened that there would be a problem for them. Someone ordered that but I do not remember who exactly. The head of class just passed this order on to me. I treat it with understanding. It is not BSU or the dormitory to blame but those who are above them. We have to obey."

Votes are being counted in a separate small room. Apart from the election commission members, observers and journalists are present.
There is little space. The ballot papers are being stocked under the desk. The observer from Belaya Rus says she can see everything.
The commission chair and secretary are counting the votes. The observers are standing behind two meters off the photographer.

Election commission chairman Aliaksandr Ihnatchyk says the phenomenally high turnout for early voting is 'a standard turnout in students' dormitories."

"There is nothing extraordinary. I participated in the election campaigns in the past. The turnout on early voting days would always hover around 80-95%," he said. 

The man, however, was unable to explain why students who usually tend to prepare for their exampls in the very last moment, suddenly become so organized and politically conscious. He just added: "I never ask them these kind of questions."

"Students wish to travel back home to their parents to have Mom's pancakes for the weekend," пераканаць мяне Fiodar, a good-hearted observer from the Red Cross, tries to convince me. Thank you, Fiodar, Mom's pancakes are the sweetest explanations ever.

The vote count is complete.

"In the history of BSU, I cannot recall a single case when someone would skip the election and would have ended up evicted from the dormitory," says BSU Campus Director Alla Melekh. "It was never the case and will never be. Of course, it is a plus when student actively participates in sport, scientific, cultural and other social events. But academic performance is No 1 criterium. Obviously, there is no accommodation available for 100% of students. Hence, we have to select the best from among the best. A student can be deprived of a place in a dormitory if he or she got drunk, smoked in prohibited areas or engaged in hooliganizm activities. Our students are very straightfoward. They can always tell you what they think. I believe they do no fear."

As the local election results have shown, students do not fear by approximately 3.6%.