By Maria Antonova (AFP) – Sep 23, 2012
MINSK — Belarus on Monday boasted of a massive turnout in parliamentary polls won by supporters of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko but the opposition ridiculed the results as brazenly rigged.
The participation in Sunday's polls was 74.3 percent, the central election commission said, a figure which the opposition said was almost double the real number of votes cast.
The election commission said that the opposition -- suffering under a crackdown by Lukashenko -- appeared to have failed to win a single seat in parliament but these results still need to be confirmed.
"The practice of lies has become the visiting card of the authorities," said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the United Civil Party. "This is a complete discrediting of the electoral system in Belarus. It is a dead end."
Vitaly Rymashevsky, co-chairman of the Belarus Christian Democracy party, told AFP his party's observers believed only 38 percent of the electorate had voted after much of the opposition called for a boycott.
"The election commission is unscrupulously lying as these figures are so radically different from those of observers," said Rymashevsky.
Yury Gubarevich, deputy chairman of the For Freedom movement, said: "The authorities are counting on falsification but in these elections they have also come up against the apathy of society, the lack of a high turnout."
As the authorities under Lukashenko have no formal ruling party and the new MPs are listed by only surname and not political affiliation it will take some time to interpret the results, even though almost all votes have been counted.
However election commission head Lidya Yermoshina told journalists that it was unlikely that the opposition had won any of the seats in the 110 seat lower house.
"It is doubtful. None of the regions have sent in information about this," she said. Analysts expect that the new parliament -- like the last -- will contain only pro-Lukashenko lawmakers.
AFP correspondents had seen only small numbers of voters casting their ballots at polling stations in Minsk, despite the use by state television of all its resources to bring people to vote.
Amid the dispute over the turnout, huge attention will be given to the report of OSCE-led international observers that is due to be published later on Monday.
Lukashenko, known to his admirers as "Batka" (Dad), had cast his vote alongside his extra-marital young son Kolya, who sported a tailored suit. The president praised the "calmness" of the polls: "There is nothing to criticise so far," he told journalists.
"They should envy our boring elections. We don't need any revolutions or upheavals," said the president, who has ruled for 18 years and been dubbed Europe's last dictator by Washington.
Nearly two years after unleashing a crackdown on demonstrators who dared question the scale of his election to a fourth term in December 2010, Lukashenko hardly faced any challenge from his scattered and weakened foes.
Several opposition groups called for a boycott of the polls, including United Civil Party and The Belarus People's Front, although others still supported certain candidates.
But the authorities still appeared to be taking no chances. About a dozen protesters have been arrested in the past week and thousands of flyers calling for a boycott were confiscated.
A dozen buses packed with riot police lurked on the side streets of central Minsk, just in case any protests should break out, an AFP correspondent said.
The outgoing parliament spent the term rubber-stamping legislation almost exclusively issued by the president's office, drafting and passing only four largely inconsequential bills of its own.
Facing economic sanctions and a travel ban from the West over rights abuses, Lukashenko's regime has moved even closer to its historic ally Russia, resisting calls for economic and electoral reforms.
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