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OSCE Slams Belarus Vote As 'Not Competitive From The Start'

  • RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Electoral commission staff empties a ballot box in the capital, Minsk, after polling stations closed in Belarus's parliamentary elections on September 23.

Electoral commission staff empties a ballot box in the capital, Minsk, after polling stations closed in Belarus's parliamentary elections on September 23.

MINSK -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says it has "serious concerns" over weekend parliamentary elections in Belarus in which not a single opposition candidate won a seat in parliament.

The OSCE said on September 24 that the poll was "not competitive from the start."

"Many democratic rights" were not respected, the group's observers said in a statement.

Most opposition parties had pulled their candidates and urged voters to stay away from the polls, the latest in a string of flawed Belarusian elections since President Alyaksandr Lukashenka took power in 1994.

All but one of the 110 seats that were up for grabs were decided by clear majorities for parties loyal to the president or his program, according to RFE/RL's Belarus Service. Three candidates from the nonruling Communist Party of Belarus and one from the Agrarian Party were elected. Both of those parties ran on platforms supporting Lukashenka.

The one other seat will be contested in a second round, as neither candidate secured the necessary 50 percent.

WATCH: Belarus Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidiya Yermoshina announces the vote was "successful" before she has to turn to a colleague for the turnout figure, which the opposition claims is inflated:

Antonio Milososki, the head of the OSCE's election observation mission, said the lack of neutrality and impartiality during the latest vote "severely undermines public confidence in the process."

"A free election depends on people being free to speak, organize, and run for office," Matteo Mecacci*, who led the short-term OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Minsk, "and we didn't see that in this campaign."

Belarusian officials cited turnout of 74.3 percent, but the opposition claimed the actual turnout was much lower.

The observers singled out a lack of access or beatings handed out to reporters trying to cover the campaign, imprisonment or "arbitrary administrative actions" targeting opposition candidates, and flaws in the administrative and legal framework for elections, among other problems, hampering the voting.

Matteo Mecacci, who led the short-term OSCE observer mission

Matteo Mecacci, who led the short-term OSCE observer mission

Mecacci said that while "there was an increase in the number of candidates put forward by parties...prominent political figures who might have played a role in this contest remain in prison or were otherwise denied registration due to their criminal record or arbitrary administrative actions."

The monitoring team sent by the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) judged the elections "free, demoncratic, and compliant with national laws."

The United States echoed the OSCE assessment. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said better respect for democracy and human rights in Belarus, including the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, "remains central to improving bilateral relations with the United States."

Lukashenka had called the political opposition "cowards" for withdrawing their candidates and pressing for the boycott.

The vote was the first in Belarus since an election in late 2010 handed Lukashenka a fourth term as head of state and sparked street protests that were brutally crushed by security forces and the courts.

Ahead of the latest vote, state-run television and radio made no mention of the boycott call.

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.

Human rights groups said arrests and detentions of opposition activists marred the run-up to the voting.

Opposition groups were barred from holding street protests or handing out leaflets to support their boycott call.

* CORRECTION: This story was amended to correctly attribute the quote to Mr. Mecacci, rather than his ODIHR colleague.

With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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