Belarus Vote Totally Shuts Out Opposition
September 24, 2012
Parties loyal to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have swept weekend legislative elections in Belarus, according to preliminary results posted by the Central Election Commission.
Most opposition parties had withdrawn their candidates and urged voters to stay away from the polls, saying political prisoners should be released and the conditions for a fair contest had not been met.
Some 109 deputies were elected with clear majorities, according to RFE/RL's Belarus Service. One seat will be contested in a second round, as neither candidate secured the necessary 50 percent.
Jailings And The Ballot Box
Several opposition figures had been denied registration on technical grounds, and a number of dissidents remain in jail.
The new parliament will include three deputies from the Communist Party of Belarus and one from the Agrarian Party, both of which ran on platforms supporting the president.
Official turnout for the September 23 vote was 74.3 percent, though the opposition says actual turnout was half that figure.
Earlier, opposition leaders had cast serious doubt over official turnout figures.
"The election commission is unscrupulously lying, as these figures are so radically different from those of observers," Vitaly Rymashevsky, co-chairman of the Belarus Christian Democracy Party, told AFP.
The voting is the first in Belarus since a disputed election in late 2010 handed Lukashenka a fourth term as head of state and sparked street protests that were met with a swift and brutal clampdown.
Ahead of the latest vote, state-run television and radio made no mention of the boycott call.
Lukashenka, a former Soviet collective farm manager who has run Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, slammed the opposition for its boycott while speaking to journalists in Minsk after casting his ballot on September 23.
"These [election boycotters] are people who are simply cowards and who have nothing to tell the people. That is all because, as you know, the political struggle is developing according to some particular laws," Lukashenka said. "All political processes are developing according to the laws which are typical only for this political campaign and everybody knows about that. You as monitors, who have seen all the parliamentary elections, know about it. I know about it, and those who get involved in this political struggle know about it as well."
Poor Election Record
Western officials have dismissed all of Belarus's elections since the early 1990s, when Lukashenka came to power, as seriously flawed.
RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported early on September 24 that authorities had rounded up "around 20 young people" and taken them to a police station in central Minsk. All of them reportedly had been taking part in an independent effort to monitor activities at polling stations.
Lukashenka denounced opposition leaders as "cowards" for urging people to boycott the election to protest the continued detention of political prisoners and alleged election fraud.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had some 300 observers to monitor the election and was expected to present an assessment later on September 24.
Sergei Lebedev, head of the monitoring mission of the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), said the day after the voting that the elections were "free, democratic, and compliant with national laws."
Human rights organizations say the lead-up to the poll was marked by arrests and detention of opposition activists.
Opposition groups were barred from holding street protests or handing out leaflets to support their boycott call.
Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Interfax, and belta.by
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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