PRAGUE, 13 April, 2006 (RFERL) - - PACE today added its voice to the chorus of international disapproval of the recent parliamentary elections in Belarus. International observers said the elections were neither free nor fair.
Estonian deputy Andres Herkel, PACE's rapporteur on Belarus, told the Strasbourg-based assembly that last month's vote failed to meet acceptable standards of transparency.
"I [have never seen] such a limited right for [election] observers," Herkel said. "Actually, all the process of [vote] counting was not transparent, and so, [there were] very few observers which were really independent or from the opposition side."
Today's special session on Belarus follows last week's criticisms of the elections by the European Parliament in Brussels and the decision this week by European foreign ministers to impose a visa ban on Belarus to include President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 30 others.
Lukashenka has accused the West of seeking to alter the choice of the Belarusian people, but PACE deputy Herkel said that Belarus must comply with European standards of democracy.
"Belarus is a sovereign state, but the standards of democracy cannot be different," Herkel said. "They must be in compliance with our standards, the standards of many international organizations -- and there is no such things as democracy with a lack of pluralism, with a lack of free media in the country, and with a lack of free and fair elections."
The election result provoked thousands of Belarusians to take to the streets in protest -- an unusual event in Belarus, where the authorities clamp down hard on public expressions of dissent. Hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested, some of whom are still in jail.
According to the official results, Lukashenka won a third term in office with 83 percent of the vote, but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the elections, said they were severely flawed.
PACE's Herkel went even further today by questioning whether the Belarusian president even had the right to run for a third term.
"The very participation of Mr. Lukashenka in the run [for] the post of president in these elections is problematic because the referendum held in October 2004 [Ed. allowing Lukashenka to run again] was not only not under compliance with international, but it also was in contradiction of Belarusian law," Herkel said.
Lukashenka is unlikely to be much impressed by today's PACE session, but it sends yet another signal to him nevertheless. The international isolation of Belarus has never been greater.