Observers slam Belarus polls as regime loyalists clean up

Claim that huge turnout of 74.3 per cent indicates fraud.

President Alexander Lukashenko after voting in Minsk on Sunday.
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MINSK // Not a single opposition politician won a seat in the Belarus parliament in a weekend vote that was roundly condemned by international observers and looks set to deepen the former Soviet nation's diplomatic isolation.

Critics also said the 74.3 per cent turnout reported by the central elections commission chairman yesterday was way too high and indicated widespread fraud.

The election resulted in representatives of three parties that have backed the policy agenda of the president, Alexander Lukashenko, securing slots in parliament.

"This election was not competitive from the start," said Matteo Mecacci, leader of the short-term observer mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "A free election depends on people being free to speak, organise and run for office, and we didn't see that in this campaign."

The main opposition parties had boycotted the election to protest against the detention of political prisoners and opportunities for election fraud.

Belarus's parliament has long been considered a rubber-stamp body for Mr Lukashenko's policies. He has ruled the former Soviet nation since 1994 and western observers have criticised all recent elections in Belarus as undemocratic.

Local independent observers estimated the overall turnout as being almost 19 per cent lower than the official 74.3 per cent figure.

"Belarus gets ever closer to the worst standards of Soviet elections," said Valentin Stefanovich, coordinator of the Rights Activists for Free Elections group.

At least 20 independent election observers were detained, according to rights activists.

Leonid Zaiko, a political analyst, said the way the elections were held highlighted Mr Lukashenko's desire to prepare for another beckoning economic crisis.

"He plans to control the situation with an iron fist. He has no time for any opposition, not on the street and certainly not in parliament," Mr Zaiko said.

Mr Lukashenko's landslide win in a 2010 presidential election triggered a mass street protest that was brutally suppressed. Some of the 700 protesters arrested are still in jail, including the presidential candidate, Nikolai Stankevich.