Belarussian Election Shuts Out Opposition

By Emma Stickgold

Opposition candidates failed to win any of the seats up for grabs in Belarus' parliament elections, in a closely watched race. Preliminary results, announced early Monday, show the opposition candidates did not succeed in garnering any of the 110 parliament seats, prompting their party leaders to cry "foul" and charge that the election was rigged. Emma Stickgold has this report from Moscow.

Belarus is nestled between the European Union and Russia and, to most observers, Sunday's election was a harbinger for which way the country will lean. The country of roughly 10 million people serves as a conduit for Russian gas exports and has been inching its way towards democratic reform, according to Western leaders.

As of early Monday, none of the 70 opposition candidates has captured the majority of the vote, with 15 of the 110 districts uncontested. The vote was monitored by about 400 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. They say they will issue their preliminary finding, later today.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been referred to as "the last dictator in Europe," by Washington and has led a government viewed by many to be autocratic, for 14 years. He vowed Sunday's election would be free and fair -- claiming his commitment to democratic reform and saying this vote would be "democratic without precedent."

European Union leaders have said sanctions would be lifted and financial aid doled out. if the election proved to be open and fair. The United States has indicated it would follow suit.

Although President Lukashenko has said he would move to sever ties with the West, if the results of the election were not officially recognized, he has also been trying to solidify the country's relationship with the West.

Although Western observers say steps were made to ensure more fairness, including granting increased television time to opposition candidates, opposition party leaders say that the election was a fraud. Among their concerns is a law that allowed people to vote in advance, which nearly one-third of the population did, although this part of the process was not under the spotlight of independent monitoring.

Hundreds of activists rallied in the capital city, Minsk, holding aloft signs decrying Lukashenko's rule, and the opposition United Citizen Party leader Anatoly Lebedko said that his group does not recognize the results of the election.

Opposition leaders say that, in general, demonstrating their political views make them vulnerable to intimidation and random arrests.

The head of the Central Election Commission Lidia Yermoshina says the election did not fail to meet international voting standards.



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