Dictator wins Belarus 'election'

  • 2008-10-01
  • By Adam Mullett
VILNIUS - All 110 open seats in Belarus' parliament went to supporters of the nation's autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, in a weekend election that international observers said was plainly corrupt.
Votes were discarded in plain view in an election that has been dubbed a farce and a show for the West, election observers report.

"Not a single opposition candidate was elected, at least not among those represented by the parties," Central Elections Commission chief Lidia Yermoshina told a news conference.
Most of the reported violations were committed during the counting of votes, which jeopardizes the transparency and fairness of the elections, said Lithuanian MP Skirmantas Pabedinskas, who observed the polls.

"We noticed that standard procedures were not observed at all during the counting of votes. In the polling station No. 523, the counting was headed by a person who was not a member of the electoral commission. Furthermore, he took all the ballots and left. We asked the chairman of the electoral commission who he was and got an answer that the person was helping," he said.

A coalition of anti-Lukashenko groups criticized the election as undemocratic.
"It is clear these elections cannot be recognized as honest and fair under any criteria. We do not recognize the results," Anatoly Lebedko, the leader of the opposition United Citizen Party, said.
Pabedinskas was in Belarus as part of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the intergovernmental security and human rights group.

He said not all members of the electoral commission were allowed to count the votes, and the final result announced was by a secretary who was not involved in the counting.
"The head of the company on whose premises the voting takes place is in charge of the course of the elections in Belarus, and they want the results to be 'positive,'" the Lithuanian MP said.
The Lithuanian MP added that observers were not always allowed to see documents they had requested. After OSCE observers protested the counting procedure, the electoral panel member attempted to throw the list into a garbage bin.

Pabedinskas, who observed the elections in Minsk, said that cafeterias and cafes were open in most of the electoral districts, and many voters were offered a drink before going to vote.
The elections were met with protests from citizens and officials in and out of Belarus. Hundreds of opposition activists gathered in Minsk late Sunday to condemn the polls as a farce and urged international observers not to recognize the outcome.

After the polls closed, protesters in Minsk held banners declaring "No to farce," "Dictatorship should go to the dustbin of history," and "No to Russian military bases."
They also waved flags of the European Union and orange flags akin to those used in the pro-Western Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine in 2004.

Lukashenko, who for 14 years has ruled this economically backward country wedged between Russia and the European Union, criticized opposition groups for taking "outside" funding. "A real, constructive opposition is always needed 's but not an opposition fed and financed 100 percent from outside," he said.
The West had offered to ease sanctions, give economic aid and lift a travel ban on Belarusian leaders if the poll showed signs of progress in the country, which is also a key transit route for Russian gas exports. The elections will affect the normalization of Belarus' relations with the European Union.

"An evaluation of the character of the elections in Belarus will be made after summarizing the insights of the observers of the elections," the Foreign Ministry said in a press release Monday.
"The main criterion in the assessment of the elections is whether the citizens of Belarus had an opportunity to freely express their will. Therefore, we will first of all thoroughly analyze the conclusions to be presented by the international observation mission of OSCE," the ministry said.

The voter turnout was 75.3 percent, according to the Central Elections Commission.