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In Europe's sketchiest election, Belarus votes in entirely pro-government parliament (+video)

Not a single member of an opposition party won seat in Belarus's parliamentary elections, which have been widely condemned by international observers.

Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko calls his opponents "cowards" after they call for a boycott of parliamentary elections. Andrew Raven reports.
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Not a single opposition politician won a seat in Belarus's parliament in a weekend vote that has been condemned by international observers and looks set to deepen the former Soviet nation's diplomatic isolation.

Critics also said the 74.3 percent turnout reported by the Central Elections Commission chairman on Monday 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 ample opportunities for election fraud.

The vote filled the parliament with representatives of three parties that have backed the policy agenda of 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's parliament has long been considered a rubber-stamp body for Mr. Lukashenko's policies. He has ruled the former Soviet nation since 1994, and Western observers have criticized all recent elections in Belarus 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," Mr. Zaiko said.


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