The turnout reached just under two-thirds nationally in Belarus' parliamentary elections on Sunday, with the authorities proclaiming the poll a success and the opposition saying it was a farce.
Central Election Commission representative Lidia Yermoshina said she was pleased with how the election had gone, after the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time.
“I am delighted at the conduct of the election,” she told journalists in Minsk after the polls closed. “Any election campaign which does not arouse discontent in society is already successful,” she added.
National turnout was 65.9 percent by 6 p.m local time, she said. The lowest turnout was in the capital Minsk, where just 52.67 percent of eligible voters turned up.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission declared the elections valid at 3 p.m., after more than 50 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.
“The appearance of half of the voters on the list allows us to declare the election valid,” the commission said in a statement.
Representatives of five opposition groups and parties, meanwhile, said the vote could not be described as transparent or democratic due to interference by the authorities in the electoral process.
“This [interference] gives us the right, now, independently of the voting results which will be declared by the election commission, in which opposition political structures’ representatives were not allowed, to say before the results are declared that we do not recognize these 2012 elections to the chamber of deputies as fair, transparent or democratic,” said a statement signed by representatives of the Belarusian left party Fair World, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada), For Freedom movement, the Speak the Truth civil campaign and BNF party.
The opposition leaders signing the statement “called on international organizations to increase political pressure on the Belarusian government to stop repression, free political prisoners and return rights and freedoms to all those arrested for political motives.”
The opposition claims the pre-election campaign was marred by pressure on opposition candidates by the state in which “the authorities illegally barred its opponents’ right to freely contact the electorate even to the limits allowed by the law.”
Opposition leaders said the election process itself was characterized by “interference by state officials at all levels.”
The Central Election Commission claims the opposition declaration is part of a strategy devised long before the election, of pandering to a western audience.
“Some opposition politicians declared their non-recognition of the election result back at the start of this year. They do this so as to show the media and foreign politicians that Belarus has no elections, and they can’t be free and fair,” Central Election Commission secretary Nikolai Lozovik said on Sunday in response to the opposition declaration.
The two main opposition parties, United Civic and the BPF, pulled out of the parliamentary election a week ago and urged voters to go fishing or mushroom picking instead of going to the polls, which they call “pseudo-elections” for a “fake” parliament.
Observers from a CIS monitoring group said the elections met international standards, the group’s leader, CIS Parliamentary Assembly leader Roman Amburtsev told journalists in Minsk.
“In my opinion, the electoral process is proceeding normally,” he said. “International and nation observers are taking part at the polling stations,” he added.
Another election observer, Maxim Grigoryev of Russia’s Public Chamber, said the voting had proceeded well from a technical viewpoint.
“First of all, the Central Election Commission worked well. The process was well prepared from a technical viewpoint. It’s all going well enough. From a standards viewpoint, I think we are at an international level,” he said.
He also noted the misunderstanding of observers caused by the boycott by the two main Belarusian opposition parties who withdrew their candidates a week before the vote.
“I can say the situation with some parties, who pulled their candidates at the last minute, presents us with a few questions. A democratic system means candidates have to take part in elections regardless of how the authorities relate to them,” he said.
“The game is clear – using taxpayers’ money, for advertising. By Belarusian law this is legal, but from the viewpoint of generally accepted democratic norms, it is not right,” he said.
The elections to Belarus’ National Assembly, its lower house of parliament, will elect 110 candidates from 293 candidates, each from one district.
The opposition claims the Belarus parliament has turned into a “pocket” chamber that rubber-stamps President Alexander Lukashenko’s directives.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, was reelected in disputed polls in December 2010. Dozens of opposition figures, including political rivals, were arrested after violent protests in Minsk following the announcement of the presidential result.