Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is Europe’s longest-serving ruler and the 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm chairman now wants a sixth term as president.
But in the run-up to the 9 August presidential election he has faced the biggest opposition protests for a decade.
“An authoritarian style of rule is characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it,” he said in August 2003. “You need to control the country, and the main thing is not to ruin people’s lives.”
There have been hundreds of arrests in a wave of demonstrations since May.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with an authoritarian style reminiscent of the Soviet era, controlling the main media channels, harassing and jailing political opponents and marginalising independent voices.
The powerful secret police – still called the KGB – closely monitors dissidents.
On 30 July tens of thousands rallied in the capital Minsk in support of political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, now his main rival.
She stepped in to challenge Mr Lukashenko after her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger, was firstly barred from running for presidency and then sent to jail.
A referendum in 2004 lifted the two-term limit on presidents, paving way for Lukashenko to stay life-long President of Belarus.
Lukashenko is self-made man from humble origins raised by a single mother in a poor village in eastern Belarus.
He is married to Galina Lukashenko, with whom he has two adult sons, Viktor and Dmitry, however she has been always out of public life. In spite of the fact of being separated for decades, he told an interviewer in 2015 that he had no intention of divorcing Galina.
He has a third son, Nikolai (Kolya), born in 2004, whose mother Irina Abelskaya was Mr Lukashenko’s personal doctor. It is still unclear if the mother has un opportunity to see her son, there is a predomiant public opinon among Belorussians that Abelskaya was denied any contacts with the boy. The child has been exposed to public to such an extend that many analysts suggested Lukashenko aims to restore monarchy and pass the presidency to his youngest son.
However recently in an interview to the Ukrainain press Lukashenko has denied his allegations and said that he did not with to see his youngest son Nikolai as president and is not preparing him to be his successor.
Answering the reporter’s question whether he would like Nikolai to assume the office of president, Lukashenko said, “No, no. My Kolya is unlikely to ever be president.”
In his address to the parliament which lasted exactly one and a half hours, Lukashenko covered the essence his entire election program.
The President promised not to allow a return to the “dashing 90s”, insisted on absence of alternative to evolutionary (on contrary to revolutionary) development, exposed the incompetence of opponents and urged against expecting «miracles».
At the same time, he paid a lot of attention to Russia: in particular, he made it clear that fraternal relations were in the past – and through the fault of Moscow, not Minsk.
“Russia has always been, is and will be our closest ally, no matter who is in power in Belarus or Russia. This is an overwhelming factor. It is deep within our peoples. This is deep within our peoples, even though Russia has exchanged fraternal relations with us for partnerships. In vain! “ Lukahsenko underlined.
Talking about the rival candidates the President said: “Found these three unfortunate girls (the joint opposition headquarters: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo, Maria Kolesnikova). They don’t understand what they are reading. What are you writing to them? “
“Let’s hold unfair elections, release economic, political, drug addicts, criminals, hold fair elections and live”.
“But at least tell them that it is not the president in Belarus who calls the elections. That after the unfair elections the Belarusian parliament will never plunge the country into a series of election campaigns and will not appoint the next elections. Think about it at least. What are you writing to them? They don’t understand what they are saying and what they are doing. But we see who is behind them.”