Belarus Elections Fail to Meet International Standards

U.S. officials disappointed, but plan to maintain dialogue with government

By Stephen Kaufman

Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. officials expressed disappointment that the September 28 parliamentary elections in Belarus "fell significantly short of international standards" but said they intend to maintain a dialogue with President Alexander Lukashenko's government and the Belarusian people with the goal of encouraging greater democratic freedoms.

In a September 29 statement, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack cited a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which sent a monitoring mission for the election. The organization concluded that despite "minor improvements," the vote did not meet OSCE and international standards and that pledges by the Belarusian government to have a transparent vote count were not upheld.

Specifically, McCormack said, at nearly half of the precincts where the OSCE sent observers the vote count was "judged negatively."

"Problems included election monitors being denied access to the vote count process, discrepancies between the number of voters observed and the number of votes recorded, and outright falsification of votes," McCormack said.

The Bush administration commended the candidates and parties who participated in the contest and noted that a demonstration took place after the vote "in a peaceful and orderly manner." McCormack also said the United States intends to maintain its dialogue with "the government and people of Belarus."

International observers said there were "minor improvements" but the election failed to meet proper standards.

However, any improvement in the bilateral relationship requires President Lukashenko's government to take steps to promote democratic freedoms "including holding genuinely competitive elections" and to improve "respect for internationally recognized human rights," he said.

Deputy spokesman Robert Wood acknowledged there are "very serious difficulties" remaining between the United States and the Belarusian authorities. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it," he told reporters September 30.

U.S. officials previously said the elections were "a key point" in determining the future of the bilateral relationship, and Wood said the State Department is "obviously : disappointed that they didn't meet up to international standards." (See "Free and Fair Elections in Belarus Could Improve U.S. Relations.")

Wood said the United States is speaking with its European allies on how to help Belarus move forward "on the democratic path" and take steps in other areas such as improving human rights. "But we also know that we have to work with this government" to "deal with some of these issues," he said.

A senior State Department official said the key to democracy in Belarus is allowing the Belarusian people to freely decide who their leaders should be. "They should have that opportunity."

Although the vote was seen as an important factor affecting the future bilateral relationship, the official said, "we didn't say it was the only test."

"We obviously want to : take a little more analytical approach to this and see exactly, given the results that we've seen from the election, what this means and how we take our policy toward Belarus forward," the official said.



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