Minsk: International observers condemned a weekend vote in Belarus in which not a single opposition politician won a parliament seat. The election looks set to deepen the former Soviet nation`s diplomatic isolation.
Critics also said the 74.3 percent turnout reported yesterday by the country`s Central Elections Commission chairman was way too high and indicated widespread fraud.
The main opposition parties, which were ignored by state-run media, boycotted the election to protest the detention of political prisoners and the ample opportunities for election fraud.
The vote filled parliament with representatives of the three parties that have backed the policies of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
"This election was not competitive from the start," said Matteo Mecacci, leader of the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "A free election depends on people being free to speak, organize and run for office, and we didn`t see that in this campaign."
Belarus` parliament has long been considered a rubber-stamp body for Lukashenko`s policies. He has ruled Belarus since 1994 and Western observers have criticized all recent elections there as undemocratic.
Local independent observers estimated the overall turnout as being almost 19 percent lower than the official 74.3 percent 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.
Political analyst Leonid Zaiko said the way the elections were held highlighted 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," Zaiko said.
Lukashenko`s landslide win in the 2010 presidential election triggered a mass street protest against election fraud that was brutally suppressed. Some of the 700 people arrested at that protest are still in jail, including presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich.
Opposition politicians have cautioned supporters to refrain from holding protest rallies this time.
The opposition had hoped to use this election to build support, but 33 of 35 candidates from the United Civil Party were barred from television, while the state-owned press refused to publish their election programs.