By: The Associated Press
MINSK, Belarus - The elections commission in Belarus has registered 10 candidates for next month's presidential election, including authoritarian incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.
The registration closed Thursday with a record number of contenders for the post. But although that appeared to indicate growing political activity in the tightly controlled country, opinion surveys cast doubt on whether Lukashenko is in danger of losing his bid for a fourth term in office in the Dec. 19 ballot.
Lukashenko, an open admirer of the Soviet Union, has been president since 1994, a tenure marked by suppression of dissent and independent media and by assiduous courting of anti-Western leaders including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
However, his once-close relations with Russia have deteriorated in recent years and Belarus has made tentative efforts to improve relations with the West.
An opinion poll released in November by the Independent Institute of Social-Political and Economic Investigation found support for Lukashenko's re-election at around 44 per cent, not enough to avoid a run-off. However, the poll also found support for all other candidates totalling less than 27 per cent - leaving a large portion of the electorate either undecided or unwilling to reveal their choices.
The poll was based on interviews with more than 1,500 people, the institute said.