(Reuters) - The ex-Soviet republic of Belarus began voting on Sunday in a presidential election expected to give Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, a fresh five-year mandate and a fourth term.
Here are some facts about the 56-year-old leader:
LIFE IN POLITICS:
-- Lukashenko was the only member of Belarus's parliament to vote against the 1991 treaty dissolving the Soviet Union, and shot to prominence two years later with a noisy election campaign denouncing virtually all of the country's leaders.
-- He was first elected by a landslide in 1994, boosted by frustration over post-communist hardships. His victory ended a three-year experiment by liberals trying to forge a national identity in a country long dominated by neighboring Russia.
-- In 1996, Lukashenko held a referendum to boost his powers and term in office. In 2001, he was elected for a second term by a landslide and again in 2006 after a referendum that lifted the two-term presidential limit. The opposition and Western governments denounced the polls as fraudulent.
-- The EU and United States accuse Lukashenko of maintaining power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling independent media.
* RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW:
-- Russian-led vote monitors have rubber-stamped Lukashenko's past victories in Belarus, a military partner that is a buffer between Russia and NATO. But the relationship has soured in recent years, and Moscow has begun reining in the energy subsidies -- including cheap gas and tax-free flows of crude oil to Belarussian refineries -- that underpin the country's command economy.
-- Lukashenko has riled Moscow by refusing to recognize the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia.
-- In 2010, he further angered Russia by giving sanctuary to the ousted president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who himself had fallen out of favor with the Kremlin shortly before he was toppled in street protests.
-- In a sign Moscow may be seeking to undermine Lukashenko's authority, Russia's NTV television has aired documentaries this year accusing him of widespread corruption.
* LIFE DETAILS:
-- Lukashenko was born in August 1954 in the Vitebsk region of Belarus.
-- A teacher by education and a former state farm boss in Soviet times, he is dubbed "batka" (father) for his iron-fisted style but also for his down-to-earth comments and hands-on management style. He says he is "severe but fair."
-- The balding, mustachioed Lukashenko is popular at home, especially among elderly and rural voters. He portrays Belarus as under siege from the West and attacks corruption and mismanagement in lengthy televised speeches calling for order and stability.
-- He is married, but his wife lives in a village while the president lives in a state residency near the capital Minsk. He has two grown up sons with his wife, and a third child, Nikolai, who is about 6 years of age.
-- Nikolai frequently accompanies Lukashenko on official business.
-- A keen amateur ice hockey player, Lukashenko sometimes trains with the Belarus national team and likes to appear on television in a track suit.