By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarus’s Central Election Commission has announced that the country’s parliamentary elections are valid, as voter turnout passed the required 50 percent.
The country’s two main opposition parties — United Civic and the Belarusian People’s Front — called for a boycott of the vote, demanding the release of political prisoners.
The government responded with a barrage of advertisements urging people to vote.
Two other opposition parties, Just World and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, are still in the race, while members of unregistered opposition movements are listed as unaffiliated candidates.
‘Our People Believe’
Earlier, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called those urging a boycott “cowards who have nothing to tell the people.”
He noted that voter turnout is traditionally high in Belarusian elections and this is a sign that people have more confidence in the future than voters in Western countries do.
“If not many people vote, then it means that they simply don’t believe in the political system and in those authorities who are functioning in this or that country,” he said. “If I’m not mistaken, at your last political elections [in Finland], slightly more than 50 percent voted. In our country, 70 to 80 percent have always voted in the parliamentary elections.
“These are statistics; these are facts,” he continued. “And during the presidential election, about 90 percent or even more than 90 percent [voted]. It means that our society is more awake than yours. It means that our people believe more in their prospects, in their future, and in those authorities who conduct those elections.”
Lukashenka also said he hopes for improved relations with the West following the country’s legislative vote.
He rejected criticism of his country’s democratic process, telling international election monitors they should “learn to organize elections the way it is done in Belarus — openly and honestly.”
“If this time around, once again, people have doubts about the choice of the Belarusian people, then I have no idea how to conduct elections — according to which standards and according to which laws,” he said.
In the last week, about a dozen opposition activists were arrested and thousands of flyers supporting the boycott were confiscated.
‘I Just Guess’
Most voters interviewed in the eastern city of Mogilev by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service were pessimistic about the outcome of the vote.
“Nothing will change. We don’t have any real opposition,” said one elderly voter. “In other countries, when one party beats another, then they have to keep their promises. But here we are just having some political theater. One group of nationalists took over from some others.”
“What deputies?” asked another man. “I don’t know a single deputy. I voted earlier and I didn’t know a single deputy. When I vote, I just guess. I don’t know the person. I don’t know what he is capable of. What he can do. We are, as they say, in the dark. We come, we make our check marks, and we leave.”
One elderly woman had a different view, however.
“Are you living badly? I’m doing fine. I get my pension and that is enough for me. What’s wrong with that? Tell me, please!” she said. “We want to live like Europe, then we have to work like Europeans. It isn’t Lukashenka’s fault — it is the local leaders who are to blame.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has sent more than 270 observers to monitor the election.
The head of the monitoring mission sent by the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, Sergei Lebedev, said the elections were held “quite democratically and openly.”
Lukashenka has been president of Belarus since 1994 and is expected to retain control of the country’s rubberstamp parliament.
Amnesty International said the run-up to the elections had been marred by the arrest and detention of opposition members.
The vote comes two years after Lukashenka won a fourth term.
The results of the presidential vote sparked confrontations in the capital, Minsk, between security forces and opposition activists who claimed the vote had been rigged.
Rights groups say some 15 political prisoners remain jailed out of the dozens arrested during a crackdown on the protests.