Facebook Twitter

Monitors denounce Belarus election

SHARE Monitors denounce Belarus election

MINSK, Belarus — Belarus' authoritarian president swept to another five-year term on promises to merge with Russia and stand up to the West. On Monday, international monitors denounced the election as unfair.

President Alexander Lukashenko won 75.6 percent of the vote in a preliminary count Monday, the state-run Central Election Commission said. The final results were to be announced Thursday.

Opposition leader Vladimir Goncharik had 15.4 percent of the vote and centrist politician Sergei Gaidukevich took 2.5 percent, election commission chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina told a news conference.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they recorded no violations on voting day Sunday — but said the election "failed to meet international standards."

OSCE said Belarusian authorities did everything possible to block the opposition, including ruling by decree, failing to ensure the independence of the election administration, failing to properly control early voting and creating a campaign environment detrimental to the opposition. "Maybe the election process was somewhat free but clearly it was not fair," said Kimmo Kiljunen, OSCE's coordinator for the monitoring mission.

OSCE urged the Central Electoral Commission to publish the vote count from each station.

Lukashenko — dubbed Europe's last dictator by his foes for his crackdown on independent media and political opponents — claimed what he called "an elegant and beautiful victory." He brushed off criticism of the election and said he was ready to cooperate with the West — on his terms. He also promised to resolve the disappearances of several prominent Belarusians. Former security officials in recent weeks have accused government-sponsored death squads of killing Lukashenko critics — a charge Lukashenko denies.

"There is no taste of blood in my elegant victory," he said.

Goncharik claimed fraud. He said an independent count showed Lukashenko winning only 46 percent to his own 40 percent.

"It's not an 'elegant victory,' as Lukashenko put it, but an elegant forgery," Goncharik said Monday, calling for a new election.

Goncharik alleged that human rights activists trying to conduct their own count were detained Sunday and questioned by the KGB, the security service that has retained its Soviet-era name.

And the Belarusian monitoring organization Independent Observation said it was permitted to see voting records at just seven of 402 polling stations it planned to monitor.

Sunday marked Lukashenko's first electoral test since 1996, when he pushed through a referendum that extended his five-year term by two years — a vote the United States and others refused to acknowledge.

The 47-year-old leader campaigned on promises to boost living standards, farming and industry over the next five years. But critics fear he will further isolate this impoverished former Soviet republic of 10 million in the heart of Eastern Europe.

Despite rainy weather, voter turnout was nearly 84 percent, the election commission said. Most Belarusians voted Sunday, but those with a compelling reason were allowed to vote up to five days in advance — a practice U.S. officials and opposition leaders said could lead to tampering.

Lukashenko's policies have unnerved many of Belarus' neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe, which are trying to shed their communist pasts and strengthen their ties with the West.

Neighboring Poland and Lithuania are seeking European Union membership, and with Poland already in NATO and Lithuania heading there, Belarus is becoming a buffer state between the Western alliance and a Russia hostile to NATO expansion.

Lukashenko remains popular at home, partly for his efforts to hold together the social safety net and stem the economic turmoil that accompanied the 1991 Soviet collapse.

He has also pushed for a full merger with Russia, instead of the loose union that exists now. Russia is more cautious about the plan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko by telephone Monday, the Kremlin press service said, and the two leaders pledged further cooperation in their countries' union.