Belarus opposition boycotts 'tainted' election

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The Independent Online

Pro-Government parties in Belarus were yesterday poised to win parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition as undemocratic.

Pro-Government parties in Belarus were yesterday poised to win parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition as undemocratic.

But the republic's President, Alexander Lukashenko, said Belarussians would not follow Yugoslavia's lead and remove him from power. Responding to a statement from the United States that it would not recognise the elections as valid, President Lukashenko said: "Belarussians are holding elections for themselves and not for anyone else."

The Belarus opposition has been buoyed up by the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic but recognises that Mr Lukashenko, denounced by Western powers as the last surviving Communist-style strong-man in Europe, is not seriously under threat.

Of the 565 candidates running for the 110 seats in the lower house of the Belarussian parliament, which has limited powers, only 54 are opposed to the President. Opposition leaders said they were refusing to take part in the ballot because to do so would give legitimacy to the elections.

The real test of the government's support will be how many of the seven million electorate vote. Independent opinion polls predict that about 59 per cent will take part, but Mr Lukashenko said yesterday that he expected a turn-out of 70 per cent.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has already refused to send observers to monitor the election on the grounds that the Belarus government has failed to give the opposition equal time on state-run television and radio. Many candidates have also been barred from running by procedural technicalities.

Mr Lukashenko acquired sweeping powers in a referendum in 1996 when he disbanded the parliament and replaced it with an assembly consisting of deputies who were loyal to him but had few powers. He is now negotiating the reintegration of Belarus with Russia.

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