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OSCE Says 'Fundamental Freedoms Were Disregarded' In Belarusian Vote


Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box to count votes at a polling station after the Belarusian parliamentary elections in the village of Kreva, outside Minsk, on November 17.
Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box to count votes at a polling station after the Belarusian parliamentary elections in the village of Kreva, outside Minsk, on November 17.

MINSK -- International observers have concluded that "fundamental freedoms were disregarded" in snap parliamentary elections in Belarus in which opposition candidates failed to win a single seat.

"Obstacles to political party registration, fees and limited space for holding public gatherings, and criminal sanctions for defamation" tarnished the snap polls, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on November 18.

The statement also cited "a lack of safeguards" in the administration both of election day and early voting procedures.

"These elections have demonstrated an overall lack of respect for democratic commitments," said Margareta Cederfelt, leader of the OSCE's short-term observer mission.

"In a country in which the power and independence of parliament is limited and fundamental freedoms are restricted for both voters and candidates, parliamentary elections are in danger of becoming a formality," she added.

Activists of the Helsinki Committee in Belarus and the Vyasna Human Rights Center said the November 17 elections were marred by blackmail, pressure, and manipulation.

None of the parliamentary and presidential elections held in Belarus during the quarter of a century that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been in power has been recognized as fair by international observers.

Election monitors from the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) rated the elections "transparent" and "democratic," adding that they "corresponded to the country's national laws and its international commitments."

Earlier in the day, Belarus's election authorities published preliminary results of the latest vote showing that the 110 elected candidates belonged to parties loyal to Lukashenka.

The list includes 66 men and 44 women who are members of the Communist Party, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, the Patriotic Party, the Agrarian Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party.

More than half of the new deputies are government employees, including journalists working for state media.

Maria Vasilevich, the 22-year-old Miss Belarus 2018 who has accompanied Lukashenka at official events this year, was also awarded a seat in parliament.

Thirty members of the previous parliament were reelected to new four-year-terms.

The Central Election Commission put turnout at 77 percent.

All 110 seats in the lower house of the National Assembly were being contested by more than 500 candidates. More than 200 other candidates, many of them affiliated with the opposition, were barred, mainly for allegedly not submitting enough valid signatures.

Lukashenka has ruled the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million people since 1994 and is currently serving his fifth presidential term. The country abolished presidential term limits in a referendum in 2004.

As Belarusian voters cast their ballots, he confirmed to journalists in Minsk he would seek another term in the 2020 presidential election.

He also threatened to pull out of talks on further integration with Russia if Moscow failed to make concessions on a dispute over energy subsidies.

However, speaking in Moscow following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on November 18, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey said Minsk remained committed to closer integration with Moscow.

Lukashenka announced the parliamentary elections in April, scheduling them for approximately one year before the legislature's mandate was due to expire. He signed a degree setting the November 17 date in August.

With reporting by TASS and AFP