Vote Closes in Belarus, Exit Polls Give Incumbent Clear Lead

2006-03-20 03:20:43 Xinhua

Polls closed Sunday night in Belarus' presidential election, in which incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko was taking a clear lead in exit polls against three other contenders.

An exit poll, conducted by Belarus' Committee of Youth Organizations, gave Lukashenko 80 percent of the vote. The other three candidates got somewhere between 4-6 percent respectively. Preliminary results are expected late Sunday night or early Monday morning.

Polling stations across the country, which lies between Russia and Poland, closed at 1800 GMT.

Lukashenko, who is seeking re-election to a third term, is facing independent candidate Alexander Milinkevich, who is supported by the opposition, Liberal Democratic Party leader Sergei Gaidukevich and Social Democratic Party leader Alexander Kozulin.

To avoid a run-off, a candidate must secure no less than 50 percent of the vote.

A voter turnout of at least 50 percent is required for the election to be valid in Belarus, where about 7 million people were eligible to vote. Officials declared the vote valid several hours into polling.

More than 1,200 international observers visited polling stations to monitor the election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States have sent the largest groups of election observers.