Belarus elects token parliament, awaits OSCE response

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 24, 2012 5:30 AM
Belarus elects token parliament, awaits OSCE response

By Richard Balmforth and Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - A parliamentary election in Belarus boycotted by the main opposition was dominated by candidates loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko, reinforcing his autocratic, 18-year-old rule of the former Soviet republic, officials said on Monday.

Electoral commission officials listed 109 winning candidates, all of whom represented pro-establishment parties. Moderate opposition figures who did take part failed to gain a foothold.

"It seems that candidates from the opposition parties do not enjoy the trust of their electorate," Nikolai Lazovik, a senior commission official, told a news conference.

Western monitoring agencies have not judged an election in Belarus free and fair since 1995 and observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were due to announce their verdict later on Monday.

The two main opposition parties, United Civic Party and the Belarussian People's Front, had called on people to go mushrooming or fishing rather than vote in protest at the detention of political prisoners and election fraud.

Human rights bodies say the run-up to Sunday's poll was marked by arrests and detention of opposition activists.

Lukashenko, a populist in power since 1994 who keeps firm control of the country of 9.5 million people, on Sunday denounced their boycott call, calling them "cowards who have nothing to say to the people".

Apparently positioning himself for a negative verdict from the OSCE observer mission again, Lukashenko said: "If this time round there is doubt cast on the choice of the Belarussian people then I don't know what standards will be good enough in future elections."

Lukashenko and his inner circle of officials are under travel and other sanctions from the United States and the European Union because of his heavy-handed rule.

His relations with the West nose-dived when he cracked down on street protests against his re-election in December 2010. Scores of his opponents were arrested. Many now either lie low after periods in jail or have fled the country.

Defending his 18-year-old rule and intolerance of dissent, Lukashenko, a former Soviet state farm boss who was once described by the U.S. administration of George W. Bush as Europe's last dictator, said on Sunday: "We don't need revolutions and shake-ups."

Despite the boycott of the mainstream opposition, some moderate opposition parties such as Just World and the Liberal Democratic Party had put forward candidates. But even these failed to win any support.

"The opposition must think hard about how to carry out its work in order to get into parliament," Lidiya Yermoshina, head of the electoral commission, told the news conference.

Turnout was 74.3 percent despite the boycott call, she said.