A Belarussian parliamentary election on Sunday is likely to reinforce hardline President Alexander Lukashenko’s grip on the small former Soviet country despite a boycott call from the dispirited opposition. The two main opposition parties have urged people to go fishing and mushrooming rather than vote in what they see as a sham exercise to produce a chamber which largely rubber-stamps Lukashenko’s directives. But four days of early voting by students, armed service staff and police in the tightly-controlled country have already produced a 19 percent turnout, according to official figures, and there was no question of the boycott threatening the overall turnout threshold and the validity of Sunday’s ballot. The outcome will enable Lukashenko to present the election as a genuine democratic process. Western monitoring agencies have not judged an election in Belarus, ruled by Lukashenko for 18 years, free and fair since 1995.
A former Soviet state farm director once described by the U.S. administration of George W. Bush as the last dictator of Europe, Lukashenko cracked down on street protests against his re-election in December 2010. Scores of his opponents – including several who stood against him – were arrested. Many now either lie low after periods in jail or have fled the country. Human rights bodies say the run-up to Sunday’s poll – inconsequential though it is – has been marked by arrests and detention of opposition activists.