OSCE slams Belarus election as undemocratic

Not a single member of the opposition won a seat in Belarus' parliamentary elections, which was slammed on Monday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as "undemocratic."

Among the problems noted by OSCE preliminary findings as "bad" or "very-bad" was Belarusian ballot counting often taking place behind closed doors barred to independent observers, making free and fair election practically impossible, dpa reported.

Unwillingness by Belarus' state-controlled news media to focus on candidates, while at the same time devoting more than 90 per cent of print and air time to authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and his government, prevented voters from learning much about candidates, the report said.

Belarus Central Election Commission head Lidia Yermoshina said the vote was free and fair, and argued the opposition failed to gain votes because their policies frightened Belarusians, the official Belapan news agency said.

"The fear of mass demonstrations and the disapproval of radical changes which could have happened if the opposition was elected, led to these results," Yermoshina said.

Despite bans on rallies several hundred opposition members gathered in the city centre of Minsk to protest the alleged fraud, holding up road flares and banners decrying the election as a farce.

The demonstration blocked traffic but was otherwise peaceful, with police making no move to interfere. The protestors had dispersed by early evening.

According to the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, 100 of 110 districts were counted. Turnout was at 75.3 per cent to vote for the 263 candidates competing for the 110 seats in the Belarus parliament, 70 of them from the opposition.

Opposition candidates lagged behind the government's candidates by a wide margin, the commission said. Among the successful directly elected candidates were many representatives of large businesses and regional administration.

Ahead of the elections, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko stressed his interest in closer ties with the West, saying the polls would be fair and democratic.

"It will be very difficult for anyone to criticize this election as unfair," Lukashenko said after casting his vote in Minsk.

A opposition statement made public Monday did just that, saying the pro-Lukashenko parliament had been elected "by the means of mass falsification." The Lukashenko government faked the results by allowing, in many cases, only pro-government officials to count votes, they claimed.

"Our position is clear and precise: we do consider this election to be neither fair, nor legitimate, inasmuch as only 5 per cent of our representatives were allowed (by the state) to participate in regional election commissions and count ballots," Anatoliy Lebedko, an opposition organizer, said.

During the last eight years, no opposition member has won a seat in parliament. Democratic elections are a prerequisite for improving relations with the West.



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