Parliamentary polls open in Belarus

President Alexander Lukashenko promises fair and free election.

Belarusian parliamentary election has begun with President Alexander Lukaschenko promising a transparent and democratic vote.

A total of 263 candidates, including 70 from the opposition, are competing for 110 parliamentary seats.

The lower house of parliament currently has no members from the opposition, who were not allowed to take part in the vote four years ago.

However, this term President Lukaschenko has promised an election conducted in strict accordance with international guidelines.

He has even welcomed 477 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to oversee the elections.

Lukaschenko has been ruling over Belarus for 14 years and despite clipping the wings of any opposition during this time, he has won popularity among his people with lavish subsidies and benefits.

Many Belarusians, particularly the elderly, credit Lukashenko as a champion of stability who has kept their country at peace and avoided major economic calamity following the Soviet collapse.

A diplomatic ice age currently exists between the EU and Belarus, with the EU imposing sanctions on the former Soviet country after its 2006 presidential elections, which the observers described as manipulated.

However, the EU and Belarus are now turning to each other in view of their strained ties with Russia.

The West is showing increasing interest in Belarus after Moscow's military confrontation with Georgia last month, and recent clashes with Russia over energy prices have made Belarusian President Lukashenko more inclined to strengthen relations with the West.

Moscow has also criticized Minsk's refusal to recognize the independence of the independence-seeking South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

While neighboring Russia begins scaling back the preferential energy deals that have helped keep the Belarusian economy afloat, Lukashenko has tried to appease the West by freeing several opposition figures considered political prisoners by Western governments.

For its part, the EU has said it could consider easing or lifting the sanctions imposed since 2006, if the election goes well. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Lukashenko spoke by telephone this week, their first such contact in years.

But despite Lukaschenko's promises and concessions, opposition leaders inside Belarus are not happy, already calling for a protest in the capital after polls close, saying their representatives have been excluded from district electoral commissions, meaning they cannot monitor the vote count.



Partners: Social Network