Belarus election diary day four: To the polls

Today is election day, with 110 parliamentary seats up for grabs, none of which are currently held by opposition candidates.

By Colin Freeman in Minsk

Given that Mr Lukashenko has stripped parliament of most parliament's powers anyway, the result is unlikely to herald any seismic shift in Belarussian politics, and even the most optimistic estimates predict that the opposition will win no more than between five and ten of the 69 seats they are contending.

There are, however, two explanations for their likely poor showing. The easy, and more comfortable one, is to say that it's all down to the government making life difficult for the opposition.

The other, however, is that as in many countries struggling to emerge from a totalitarian system - Communism, that is, not Mr Lukashenko's - the opposition are not always cuddly Orange Revolution types.

In Belarus, for example, they include Communists of various shades, the odd hardline nationalist, and numerous former regime figures, whose only real beef with Mr Lukashenko is that he kicked them for one reason or other. As a result, they are not particularly trusted by the public: most of the voters we canvass outside a polling station in a Minsk suburb say that "all the politicians are the same".

That some of the anti-government politicians are still a bit amateurish becomes amusing clear at lunchtime, when we attend a press conference *by the United Pro-Democracy Forces of Belarus, the main opposition coalition.

Among those on the plaform is new candidate, Victor Yanchurevich, who grandly declares since the polls are bound to be rigged, he will refuse to recognise them as valid.

"But what if you yourself win your seat?" asks one journalist. "Will you take your seat up?" "Of course," he replies. He doesn't seem to spot the irony.

Otherwise election day passes largely without incident, although at the opposition press conference, another candidate, Igor Runkevich, does speak of rather colourful row he had at a polling station with a Tajikistani diplomat who was there as an election monitor from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The CIS is the body that replaced the old Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991, and is generally made up of countries that still have close links to Moscow. Most opposition figures in Belarus are pro-Western, and therefore see the CIS monitors as biased against them, unlike the monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, (OSCE) whom they see as their allies.

Mr Runkevich wanted to make some complaint about the way the polling station was being run, only for the CIS election monitor to refuse to listen to him, or even give his name. It nearly ended in fisticuffs, apparently.

The whole thing about "good judges" and "bad judges" reminds me rather of watching the Olympics during the old Cold War days, when judges from the Soviet bloc countries would unite to give biased scores for ballerinas, gymnasts, skaters and the likes.

Some Western athlete who'd turned in a near-perfect performance would get a string of 5.9 points from the American and European judges, and then a miserly 5.1 from the East German and Bulgarian judges. I wonder if the OSCE and CIS verdicts on today's elections will diverge in similar fashion



Partners: Social Network