OSCE says Belarus election falls short

By Andrei Makhovsky and Oleg Shchedrov 9 minutes ago

MINSK (Reuters) - Western monitors on Monday said a parliamentary election in ex-Soviet Belarus in which opposition candidates failed to win a single seat fell short of international standards despite "minor improvements."

President Alexander Lukashenko had hoped to secure an endorsement of the election to improve ties with the West and had pledged the voting would be conducted according to accepted international requirements.

Monitors had said in the run-up to the vote that they had been impressed with the staging of the poll. But the monitors' report said the vote count had been plagued by problems and cheating and access had been hindered in 35 percent of cases.

"Voting was generally well conducted but the process deteriorated considerably during the vote count. Promises to ensure transparency of the vote count were not implemented," the report said.

"The count was assessed as bad or very bad in 48 per cent of polling stations visited. Where access was possible several cases of deliberate falsification of results were observed."

The report quoted senior OSCE monitor Anne-Marie Lizin as saying that the signal to improve the electoral system was "not implemented and substantial improvements are required if Belarus is to conduct a genuinely democratic election."

Earlier, the secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, Nikolai Lazovik said the liberal and nationalist opposition had failed to elect any members to the 110-seat chamber.

Lukashenko is seeking closer ties with the West after a series of rows over gas prices with key ally Russia. He has freed what the West labeled as political prisoners and allowed 78 opposition candidates to compete on Sunday -- far more than in previous contests.

But lack of opposition representation in parliament may complicate his efforts to find favor in the West.

"This spits in the face of the European community," Alexander Kozulin, an opposition leader freed from jail last month, told Reuters, referring to the election results.

No election in the former Soviet republic, wedged between Russia and three European Union states, has won Western approval since the mid-1990s.

The head of the Central Electoral Commission, Lidia Yermoshina, told reporters the number of seats won by the opposition should not be a consideration in the OSCE assessment.

"I think what matters from the OSCE is the process rather than the result," she said. "If this is not so, then the mission is conducting political, rather than monitoring tasks."

The EU had said it may consider easing or lifting sanctions if the poll is judged to have gone well. The sanctions include a ban on entry to the United States and EU for Lukashenko -- accused by the West of flouting fundamental rights during 14 years in power -- and 40 of his top officials.



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