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Doubts cloud Belarus parliamentary election

September 11, 2016

Voting has ended in Belarus, with the opposition winning a seat for the first time in two decades. Although the authoritarian government has introduced some reforms, there are doubts about the vote's credibility.

President Alexander Lukashenko casts his ballot
Image: picture alliance/dpa/V. Tolochko

Polling stations closed on Sunday evening, with officials later declaring that the level of voter participation reached over 74 percent.

While the parliament of the ex-Soviet state remains tightly controlled by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, preliminary results showed that the opposition had managed to claim at least one of the 110 seats. The authoritarian leader had previously managed to keep the assembly opposition-free for 20 years.

In addition to Anna Konopatskaya from the United Civil Party, independent candidate Elena Anisim also claimed a seat. A total of 484 candidates ran for a place in the assembly.

After casting his ballot (photo above) in the capital, Minsk, President Alexander Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager who has run the country since 1994, said the West should be satisfied with the way the elections were conducted.

"We did everything so that there would not be any complaints put before us from the Western side," Lukashenko said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the vote and is due to present a report on Monday.

Lukashenko looking to the West

The former Soviet republic, which has been labeled Europe's last dictatorship, has implemented a number of reforms in recent years in an effort to seek rapprochement with the West. The country is seeking a possible $3 billion (2.7 billion-euro) loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Political prisoners were released last year, prompting the EU to lift nearly all of its sanctions and the US to partially scrap its trade restrictions imposed over a perceived lack of democracy.

Doubts over unguarded urns

However, the election is being held against a backdrop of mistrust, and critics have said tight restrictions on campaigning and state control of the media have prevented a genuinely free election. Concerns have also been raised that the state, presided over by Lukashenko, could manipulate the results after ballot boxes from early voting were left unguarded for several days.

Belarus Wahlen 2015
Image: Reuters/Y. Yerchak

"Lukashenko is showing the West that the opposition figures are not thrown into jail and repression is not open, but he is not capable of more. Parliament will remain sterile; the deputies will be carefully selected," Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent political analyst, told the AP news agency.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which put in place some 400 monitors to observe Sunday's elections, said it would report on Monday how the election had been conducted.

After the last election in 2012, the OSCE called for such measures as increasing the transparency of the vote count and bolstering the right to free expression.

rc/tj (AP, dpa)

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