Belarus opposition fails to win single seat in parliament

MINSK, September 29 (RIA Novosti) - Opposition candidates have so far failed to gain a single seat in parliamentary elections in Belarus, the head of the election committee said on Monday, citing preliminary results.

"No one from the opposition has made it into parliament," Lidiya Yermoshina told journalists.

She said that 99 seats out of a total of 110 had already been decided and had all gone to pro-government candidates.

Yermoshina suggested that the opposition had failed because, "voters are afraid to lose what they have," and added that people were unwilling to risk a radical change in their lives, and that if opposition figures came to power they could, "disrupt their calm, comfortable existence."

Voting took place on Sunday across Belarus in elections that came after President Alexander Lukashenko, once called "Europe's last dictator" by the U.S., had freed opponents from jail and permitted some 70 opposition candidates to stand in the polls.

Neither the EU, nor the U.S. have recognized the results of any election or referendum in Belarus since 1996.

Lukashenko earlier said he expected European observers to approve the parliamentary polls as free and fair. After casting his vote on Sunday, he said that he hoped that if the polls went without a hitch, "the West will recognize Belarus."

Opposition leader Alexander Kozulin said he was taking part in the polls "to show the international community that the elections are fraudulent." He claimed to have evidence to back up his claims that the elections had been rigged.

Anatoly Lebedko, head of the opposition United Civil Party said, "We call on the EU and the U.S. not to recognize the results of the election."

Around 800 opposition supporters protested late on Sunday in Minsk's central Oktyabrskaya Square against the elections. There were no reports of violence.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are scheduled to report at 3:00 p.m. (12:00 GMT) on whether or not they found Sunday's polls to be fair.

Lukashenko and other top Belarusian officials are currently banned from visiting the EU due to a clampdown on political dissent and other human rights violations in the former Soviet republic. The EU has also suspended bilateral ministerial meetings with the country and expelled Belarus from the system of trade benefits.

European foreign ministers said earlier this month that sanctions against Belarus could be lifted if the country held parliamentary elections in a "democratic" fashion.

Final election results will be announced by the Belarusian election committee on October 3.

Turnout in the polls was reported as 75.3%.



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