Belarus election dismissed

 

The Belarussian president, Mr Alexander Lukashenko, was confident of victory yesterday in a general election that has been dismissed by his opponents as a farce, boycotted by most of the opposition and unlikely to be recognised by the West.

Speculation that the suppressed opposition movement would take inspiration from events in Belgrade appeared unfounded. In the run-up to the election, Mr Lukashenko instructed his security forces to ensure a "Yugoslav variant" did not occur.

But even before the count, human rights groups said the poll was neither free nor fair. Of the 565 candidates running for 110 seats in the lower chamber, only 54 were not firm Lukashenko supporters. Some opposition candidates were barred from running on registration technicalities while others chose to boycott the poll altogether.

The few anti-Lukashenko candidates who did run were denied the chance to campaign, their message stifled by a crackdown on the press. Mr Lukashenko dismissed the opposition as a "handful of windbags" funded by the West, and his suppression of the opposition movement has kept it small. Those who are active risk severe retribution. In the past two years, a string of key opposition figures have died, been imprisoned or vanished without trace.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which acts as an election watchdog, did not send observers to yesterday's vote after the government failed to adhere to basic guidelines - neglecting to provide the opposition equal access to television and radio, and refusing to allow it to take part in electoral commissions.