MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus’ authoritarian president named his new prime minister Thursday, a move that comes two months before a scheduled presidential election.
President Alexander Lukashenko, 65, is seeking a sixth term in the Aug. 9 election. He has ruled the nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century and appears certain to secure an easy victory despite opposition protests.
A day after firing Prime Minister Sergei Rumas, a moderate technocrat, Lukashenko replaced him Thursday with 46-year-old Roman Golovchenko, who previously oversaw military industries.
The Belarusian leader described his appointee as a “reliable man who can be trusted,” noting that “it’s very important that patriots and professionals come to office now.”
Observers see Golovchenko’s appointment as a sign of Lukashenko’s intention to further tighten his grip ahead of the vote.
“Lukashenko is trying to secure full control over the plummeting economy and block protests, and he needs a prime minister who is predictable and ready to fulfill any order,” said Minsk-based political analyst Valery Karbalevich.
Lukashenko said that “we need to clench our teeth” and to show more discipline in order to repair the economic damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic and “save what we have built.”
“We need to mobilize to cope with multiple new challenges over a short period of time,” Lukashenko said.
Belarus has been one of the few countries that hasn’t shut its borders and hadn’t imposed any restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
It was the only country in Europe to keep playing professional men’s soccer games with spectators in the stands. Lukashenko has rejected strict lockdown measures as “psychosis.”
Despite numerous warnings from the World Health Organization, Belarus last month held a massive military parade last month marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II.
The nation has reported over 45,000 infections, including 248 deaths as of Wednesday.