Belarus elections labelled corrupt as Lukashenko backers win all seats

European observers assessing result as opposition condemns result that leaves President Alexander Lukashenko in complete control

Luke Harding in Moscow

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko speaks to a media in Minsk, in March 2006.

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarus president, wants to paint the elections as fair amid warming relations with the west. Photograph: Nikolai Petrov/Belarusian Telagraph Agency/AP

The opposition in Belarus has failed to win a single seat in parliamentary elections, with pro-government candidates sweeping the board, the country's election commission announced today.

The result raises serious doubts about President Alexander Lukashenko's commitment to democratic reform and his pledge that Sunday's elections would be free and fair.

Britain and the EU had offered to review sanctions against Belarus if the poll showed an improvement on previous fraudulent ballots.

This morning, opposition leaders in Belarus said Sunday's election was rigged and called on the west not to recognise the result.

"There was no election in Belarus. It was an electoral farce," Anatoly Lebdko, leader of the opposition United Civil party, told the Associated Press. "We call on the EU and US not to recognise the results of this election."

The democratic opposition failed to win any of the 110 parliamentary seats up for grabs despite fielding 70 candidates. Only pro-Lukashenko deputies were elected to the lower chamber, the house of representatives.

On Sunday, Lukashenko insisted the elections would be more transparent than previous polls and would usher in a new era of improved relations with the west. "If the election goes smoothly the west will recognise Belarus," he said.

Referring to the US secretary of state Condeleeza Rice - who in 2005 branded him Europe's last dictator - he said jokingly: "Dictator, last dictator, fine, let it be so."

Today, the Belarus central election commission head, Lidia Yermoshina, said the poll had been fair. Explaining Lukashenko's landslide victory, she said: "The voter is afraid of losing what he has."

As soon as polls closed last night, about 500 opposition supporters turned out in protest on the central square of the capital, Minsk. Many waved European Union flags.

"We are tired of living in fear, we are tired of repression," said Natalya Kurilovich, 34. "I'm tired of Lukashenko stealing votes. I want a European future for my children."

Several hundred young protesters marched to the headquarters of the KGB, the country's secret police, and chanted "shame" outside the building.

The EU has denounced previous elections in Belarus. In 2006, the US and EU imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 40 of his senior officials, accusing him of fraudulently arranging his re-election.

More recently, the west has shown interest in improving ties with Minsk. Western relations with Moscow have nosedived after last month's war in Georgia and amid a row over Russia's claim to a "privileged interest" in former Soviet states.

Opposition figures say Sunday's poll was fixed last week. The government had used "administrative resources" to force students and others into early voting, they said, and opposition monitors were banned from polling stations.

"Again there are no democratic elections in Belarus. The house of representatives can't be considered democratic since members will be nominated by Mr Lukashenko's finger," said Vintsuk Vechorka, the co-chairman of Belarus's main opposition group, the United Democratic Forces.

He told the Guardian: "Lukashenko doesn't want to improve elections. He wants to improve his image in the eyes of the west. He's trying to survive between Putin's KGB Russia and the west. He wants better relations with the west so he can trade with Putin."

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has made recent concessions to western critics. In mid-August he released Belarus's last three political prisoners. Unlike four years ago, he allowed the opposition to take part and campaign in the elections.

Lukashenko allowed in around 400 election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Over the weekend he insisted the poll would be free and fair. "We are conducting the elections by the dictates of the OSCE," he said.

The OSCE is due to deliver its verdict on the elections today. European diplomats say they do not expect the poll to conform to the standards of a mature democracy but are looking for modest signs that the country is moving in the right direction.

Lavish subsidies and benefits have made Lukashenko broadly popular among the country's 10 million people.

He has quarrelled with Moscow over energy prices and his relations with Vladimir Putin, Russia's powerful prime minister, remain tense.



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