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Diplomat Says U.S. Is 'Concerned' About Belarus Election

President Lukashenka said he is confident he will win election in a "fair" vote (file photo) (RFE/RL) 24 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A top U.S. diplomat says it looks increasingly unlikely that Belarus will have a free and fair presidential election.

David Kramer, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, made the comments today in Minsk.

"I have also had the opportunity to impress upon the officials here in Minsk that we're watching the election [in Belarus] very carefully, that the United States expects there to be a free and fair election, but that the United States is also very concerned by current trends that seem to be moving in a different direction," Kramer said.

Kramer called on all sides to resist violence, and said that although he was not in Minsk to promote protests, if people choose to protest, they have the right to do so peacefully.

The Belarus opposition has warned it could call for demonstrations in the event of vote fraud in the 19 March poll.

Speaking elsewhere today in Minsk, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he would win the vote fairly.

Lukashenka, who's seeking a third term, faces three other contenders, including Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who is backed by the main opposition groups.

(with additional material from dpa, Belapan)

Belarus Election Preview

Belarus Election Preview

A protester in Vitsebsk calls for a boycott of the 19 March vote (RFE/RL)

ALL EYES ON BELARUS: No matter the outcome, the presidential election to be held on 19 March is an important event for the future of Belarus, according to three experts on the country who spoke at an RFE/RL briefing in Washington, D.C., on 14 February.

Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
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ROBIN SHEPHERD, adjunct fellow with the New European Democracies Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that civil society has been seriously weakened in Belarus as a result of the current regime's self-isolating and corrupt policies. Shepherd believes incumbent Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decided he needs a democratic election to legitimize his regime. Shepherd cautioned that opinion polls be read accurately when evaluating the election results when they become available. For example, he predicted that the true level of support for Lukashenka will probably be from 10 to 12 percentage points less than the actual reported vote count, because of a "fear factor" within the Belarusian electorate -- that some voters will fear that Lukashenka can determine how a person voted. Shepherd said he cannot predict the outcome of the election, but does believe the opposition could win a fair vote in Minsk.

JAN MAKSYMIUK, RFE/RL's Belarus and Ukraine regional analyst, noted several differences between Belarus on the eve of its presidential election and Ukraine just prior to its "Orange Revolution" in December 2004. He said that, in Ukraine, no incumbent was running for president, putting both candidates on a more equal footing. Unlike Ukraine, the opposition is not represented in the Belarus parliament or in local governments, Maksymiuk said. The primary opposition candidate, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, will not receive any positive media coverage due to state control of the Belarusian media, Maksymiuk said, and the relative economic prosperity of Belarus is another contributing factor to Lukashenka's likely re-election.

ALEXANDER LUKASHUK, RFE/RL Belarusian Service director, emphasized the government's control of the media in Belarus, saying that the Belarusian people are being deprived of both information and public discussion about election issues.

Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.