(Bloomberg) -- Belarusians living in other countries won’t have the chance to vote in this month’s constitutional referendum in the former Soviet republic ruled by Alexander Lukashenko for almost three decades.

Unlike previous polls, the country’s embassies won’t host voting stations during the Feb. 27 referendum, the Central Elections Commission said on its website. It said local pandemic rules and an inability to ensure election security are to blame for the restriction, which may deprive thousands of citizens of a voice in the matter and prevent independent exit polls. 

During the presidential election in 2020, opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya gained loud support from voters abroad. Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory over her, which triggered months of protests within the country that were brutally repressed. The result wasn’t recognized by the U.S. or the European Union. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Lukashenko to overhaul the constitution while backing him through the protests. Thousands of Russian troops have poured into Belarus for war games scheduled to run Feb. 10 to Feb. 20, which the West has said is a potential additional threat to neighboring Ukraine amid a Russian military buildup along its border. 

The referendum may allow Lukashenko to keep influence over the country’s political system for life, even if he steps down as president.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.