Parliamentary elections in Belarus have ended without the country’s main opposition parties taking part, following calls for a boycott on grounds of irregularities and illegal detentions. Poll closed at 8pm local time (17:00 GMT) having opened 12 hours earlier. The news comes as the Central Election Commission declared the parliamentary vote valid with a turnout of at least 65.9 per cent, while independent monitors have suggested a far lower turnout at 30 per cent. The main opposition parties said official claims that turnout was 65.9 percent even before polls closed were wildly out of step with reality. “The election commission is unscrupulously lying as these figures are so radically different from those of observers,” Vitaly Rymashevsky, co-chairman of the Belarus Christian Democracy party, told the AFP news agency.
The election must fill 110 seats in the Belarusian parliament, which has long been seen as a rubber-stamp body for President Alexander Lukashenko. On Sunday, Lidya Yermoshina, the head of the election commission, said that it results had been finalised for 109 seats, and that it was “doubtful” that the opposition had won any seats. As the authorities under President Lukashenko have no formal ruling party and the new MPs are listed only by surname and not political affiliation it will take some time to interpret the results. Lukashenko’s landslide win in 2010 caused massive protests, which the authorities supressed with force. The incumbent president has ruled the former Soviet nation of 10 million people since 1994.Foreign observers have criticised elections in Belarus as being undemocratic, and the US and EU have both imposed economic and travel sanctions on Lukashenko’s government over its crackdown on opposition groups and the media.
The country’s two main opposition parties have urged people to go fishing and or pick mushrooms, rather than vote in what they see as a sham exercise designed to produced a chamber that would serve to reaffirm the legitimacy of Lukashenko’s rule. Four days of early voting by students, armed service staff and police in the tightly-controlled country have already produced a 19 per cent 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.