Minsk: Early voting began in the former Soviet state of Belarus on Sunday for a parliamentary election being boycotted by the two main opposition parties.
Polling opened at 8:00 am in the country of 9.5 million people and would continue until 8:00 pm, supplemented by Soviet-style state-organised fairs and music concerts throughout the capital.
The political rivals of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko have appealed to the voters to boycott the elections and advised them to pick mushrooms or cook beetroot soup.
The vote comes two years after President Lukashenko won a landslide Presidential Election.
Since then, Belarus authorities have brutally suppressed the opposition.
President Lukashenko is often referred to as Europe`s last dictator and has ruled Belarus since 1994.
The two strongest opposition parties - United Civic and the BPF - pulled out of the race about a week ago.
The Belarusian opposition withdrew its candidates from today’s parliamentary election, complaining about the holding of political prisoners and the opportunities for election fraud.
Eleven political prisoners are currently in jail and Amnesty International says authorities have also detained other opposition activists ahead of the election.
The country`s election commission also later confirmed that the United Civic Party and the Belarusian National Front have removed the names of their candidates.
The two parties` withdrawal leaves only a handful of opposition candidates on the list of 299 candidates. Western observers have decried all recent elections in Belarus as undemocratic. The Parliament is dominated by President Alexander Lukashenko`s loyalists who normally run as unaffiliated candidates.
Lukashenko`s landslide at the 2010 vote was met with a massive protest in central Minsk which authorities brutally suppressed. Runner-up Andrei Sannikov along with other candidates and activists was charged with organizing mass disturbances and spent nearly two years in jail.
The opposition was hoping to use this election campaign to gain visibility and reach out to voters. But 33 out of 35 candidates of the Civic Party were barred from television, while the state-owned press would not publish their election programs.
With Agency Inputs