Belarus government 'cheated' in poll

By Andrei Makhovsky and Oleg Shchedrov in Minsk

Opposition supporters protest in the central square in Minsk during Sunday's elections

Western monitors said a parliamentary election in 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 that the voting would be conducted according to accepted international requirements.

Observers 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 per cent 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 by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe 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 said a pledge 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. Mr Lukashenko is seeking closer ties with the West after a series of rows over gas prices with his key ally Russia. He has freed political prisoners and allowed 78 opposition candidates to compete. But lack of opposition representation in parliament may complicate his efforts to find favour in the West.

"This spits in the face of the European community," Alexander Kozulin, a freed opposition leader, said.

The head of the electoral commission, Lidia Yermoshina, said 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."



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