Polls peaceful in Belarus, but opposition charges fixing

Other News Materials 28 September 2008 19:30 (UTC +04:00)

Parliamentary elections in Belarus went peacefully on Sunday, but opposition leaders claimed the vote result had been rigged, reported dpa.

By midday, one-third of the country's 7 million eligible voters had cast their ballots, Elections Supervisor Lidiya Yermoshina was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying from the capital Minsk.

The opposition has expressed fears that the polls would be fixed by the Belarusian leadership.

Former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin said he doubted that any opposition candidates would make it into the parliament.

"A few supposed opposition politicians will be successful, which will be sold to the European community as a great achievement, but they will only be candidates who suit the powers that be," Kozulin said as he cast his vote.

Kozulin was released from prison only a few weeks before the election on pressure from the European Union.

He had been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for organizing an event without official approval.

Opposition officials said they were not boycotting the vote in an attempt to detect fraud and rigging, said Anatoliy Lebedko, chairman of the United Democratic Forces group.

"Our role in this election ... is to gather evidence the vote was illegitimate," Lebedko said.

Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said 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.

Belarusian election officials "even are going so far as to violate (some parts of) our own election law to conduct this vote according to the standards of the West," the former collective farm boss claimed in a Saturday evening television statement.

A total of 450 Western election observers led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been invited to monitor the polls.

Turn out was weaker than earlier elections, a Central Election Committee official said. The first meaningful vote results were not expected before Monday.

There are 263 candidates for the 110 seats in the parliament. Seventy of the candidates belong to the opposition.

Opponents of the regime had previously complained of manipulation of the polls, and more recently have cited as fertile grounds for vote fraud unprecedented numbers of Belarusians allegedly voting early (26 per cent of registered voters) or abroad (20 per cent), according to a Belapan news agency report.

Lebedko said early voting was above 50 per cent of registered voters in some districts, indicating almost certain vote rigging.

"This is not an election but the appointment of MPs," he charged.

In the last parliamentary election, no opponents of Lukashenko won a seat.