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Updated Feb 23, 2024, 4:25pm EST
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Semafor Signals

Belarusian opposition endorses AI candidate in parliamentary elections

Insights from Zerkalo, Radio Free Europe, and The Straits Times

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On Sunday, Belarusians will head to the polls with a narrow choice between four official registered parties, all of which support President Alexander Lukashenko who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years. It will be the first vote of any kind in Belarus since the 2020 presidential election, where Lukashenko was accused of mass vote rigging, sparking national protests.

This time, Belarus’s opposition is endorsing an unusual candidate in the run up to the parliamentary election: Yas Gaspadar, an AI chatbot that describes itself as a 35-year-old from Minsk was launched by the Belarusian opposition earlier this month.

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“For the first time, the name of an AI candidate has appeared on the lists of parliamentary candidates,” the bot’s creators wrote in a press release.

“Frankly, he’s more real than any candidate the regime has to offer,” the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on X. “And the best part? He cannot be arrested!”

Gaspadar’s purported political agenda includes the release of political prisoners, free and fair elections, and a prohibition on nuclear weapons, which Lukashenko said Russian authorities had shipped to Belarus last December.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Chatbot is an ‘information campaign,’ but can discuss things ‘no registered candidate will talk about’

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Sources:  
Zerkalo, Radio Free Europe, Politico

The Belarusian opposition AI bot is primarily an “information campaign” and will not be formally nominated for the election, one of its creators told Zerkalo, an independent Belarusian news outlet. The election is so tightly controlled that voters fear boycotting it. “The meaning of [the AI bot’s] appearance is to show that there are no elections in Belarus,” an activist in exile told Radio Free Europe, while emphasizing that the bot could discuss things “no registered candidate will talk about.” The country’s opposition has also launched other AI-powered initiatives to reach the widest possible swathe of the country’s population, including an AI chatbot that provides information for the hundreds of thousands of people that are fleeing Belarus since 2020.

Political AI chatbots pop up in Pakistan, Argentina, and South Korea

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Sources:  
The New York Times, Semafor, The Straits Times

As it becomes easier to create custom chatbots, some opposition politicians are leveraging AI to circumvent repression. In Pakistan, the imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan relied on AI-generated videos to campaign from behind bars during this year’s presidential election and to declare his party’s victory. “In this case, it’s for a good end, perhaps an end we’d support — someone who’s locked up on trumped-up charges of corruption being able to speak to his supporters,” one expert in AI and fake news told the New York Times. “But at the same time, it’s undermining our belief in the things we see and hear.” Argentina held an AI-dominated presidential election last year with the two presidential contenders using the technology to promote themselves and attack each other. And the current South Korean president created an AI avatar of himself in a bid to appeal to younger voters during the 2022 election.

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