Belarus opposition frozen out in 'illegitimate' vote

MINSK (AFP) - Loyalists of autocratic Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko won every seat Monday in parliamentary elections seen as a democracy test but slammed by the opposition as "illegitimate".

"Not a single opposition candidate was elected" to represent their party, Central Elections Commission chief Lidia Yermoshina told a press conference.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also said the polls fell short of Western standards.

The "parliamentary elections in Belarus fell short of OSCE commitments in spite of minor improvements," the European elections watchdog said in a statement.

Full results of Sunday's legislative elections indicated that all 110 seats in the lower house would go to allies of Lukashenko, who has been labelled "Europe's last dictator" by the United States.

The conduct of the vote was "in accordance with the law," Yermoshina said.

But opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko described the results of the vote as "unfair and illegitimate" in comments broadcast on Echo of Moscow radio station.

"In most electoral districts, no-one counted the votes," said Lebedko, the leader of the opposition United Citizen Party. "Huge vote dumping (of opposition ballots) was registered during preliminary voting," he said.

"This is a defeat for Europe, a defeat of European diplomacy, a defeat of the European politicians who already envisaged making deals here," he said later at a press conference.

The elections were expected to determine whether Lukashenko's authoritarian 14-year-old regime would warm to the West or move deeper into Russia's orbit.

In the lead-up to the elections, Lukashenko made an apparent bid to thaw relations with the United States and European Union, which offered Belarus benefits if the polls showed significant improvements.

The West had offered to ease sanctions, give economic aid and lift a travel ban on Belarussian leaders if there was progress.

The Russian government issued a statement on Monday saying its powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, would pay a visit to Belarus on Monday next week.

That and a sweep by pro-Lukashenko parties would likely be read as a snub in Washington and Brussels.

Lukashenko, who has ruled this economically backward former Soviet republic wedged between Russia and the European Union for 14 years, on Sunday hit out at opposition groups for taking "outside" funding.

"A real, constructive opposition is always needed... but not an opposition fed and financed 100 percent from outside," he told journalists.

Hundreds of opposition activists gathered late Sunday in the capital Minsk to condemn the polls as a "farce" and urged international observers not to recognize the outcome.

Protesters held banners declaring "No to Farce," "Dictatorship Should Go to the Dustbin of History," and "No to Russian Military Bases." They also waved flags of the European Union.

The voter turnout was 75.3 percent, the Central Elections Commission said Monday. That included more than a quarter of the electorate who cast ballots from Tuesday through Saturday, a system the opposition says is open to abuse.

Foreign observers complained Lukashenko's critics were ignored in state-run media during campaigning -- a view shared by the demonstrators in Minsk's October Square.

Thousands had camped out in the same location in March 2006 to protest the results of a presidential vote widely seen as rigged.

Of the 263 candidates fighting for the 110 seats, only 70 were from the United Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties, while the rest back Lukashenko.

In the country's last parliamentary elections in 2004, no opposition candidates won a place in the lower house.

Monday's results were due to be formally confirmed on Friday.



Partners: Social Network