Belarusians on Sunday voted for a new parliament. Yet whatever the results of the poll may be - the parliament merely rubber stamps the decisions of the country's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The actual vote was scheduled for September 23, 2012. But the polling stations, of which there are more than 6,000, have been open since September 18. The state decided that all eligible voters may vote in advance in order to give the voters more of an opportunity to exercise their rights, according to official documents.
Independent election observers established prior to the vote that in some precincts, 50 percent of all eligible voters had already cast their ballots before Sunday. But the opposition complained that employees in many companies and government agencies were threatened with losing their jobs if they didn't vote. According to the opposition, advance voting would give the state time to switch out ballots to its favor, should it deem this necessary.
Lukashenko berates opposition
President Alexander Lukashenko had promised a "fair vote," and he had claimed the opposition is taking the same old line of alleging an illegitimate election in order to justify its inevitable defeat.
"These people, these opponents, have always just betrayed the country and poisoned the people," Lukashenko said. "Now these dirty mugs are begging for power once again. The kind of politics they are seeking is quite clear."
Meanwhile, the voters were frustrated and disenchanted. Within the past year, the national currency has lost two-thirds of its buying power. Lukashenko continues to promise that the average income should increase to $500 per month by the end of the year. However, the electorate believes neither Lukashenko nor the opposition.
Opposition calls for boycott
About 10 small political parties and movements, some of which are at serious odds with each other, represent the opposition. They have admitted to not fighting for power; rather, they said they want to demonstrate that the election is a farce. For this reason, several parties had called for a boycott for months.
Shortly before the vote was opened, the United Civil Party - one of the largest opposition parties - withdrew its candidates. The decision came after a number of the opposition's requests for the election were not met, explained party head Anatoly Lebedko.
"We provided three conditions: releasing political prisoners, granting our representatives seats on the voting committee and eliminating the early vote." Since none of these was carried out, the party called for a boycott. "Don't take part in this fraud, don't go to the vote," Lebedko appealed to voters.
'The whole country is scared'
The Belarusian opposition has been weakened through imprisonment and repression, especially after the 2010 presidential election. Many activists now have criminal records and are no longer allowed to vote, while others have left the country. Some members of the opposition were prevented from voting under flimsy pretenses.
Alexander Milinkevich of the group Movement for Freedom has become bitter, saying democratic parties had been prevented from participating in Sunday's election.
"The people are scared," he said. "The whole country is scared. Activists are being imprisoned for their participation in protests, for gathering signatures - indeed, for having alternative thoughts."