Minsk - Belarusian education officials are offering students the option of skipping weeks of class if they cast early ballots in an Sunday's presidential election, the Belapan news agency reported Tuesday.
'It's going on across the country at most universities, it's massive,' said Oleg Gulak, a spokesman for the election watch group Defenders of Free Elections. 'It's part of a carrot-and-stick approach.'
Incumbent President Aleksander Lukashenko is hoping to win a fourth consecutive term in office in the December 19 election.
Monday was the first day early ballots could be cast.
Some universities and technical schools are telling students they may go on winter vacation as soon as they cast an early ballot - meaning an extra two week break from classes, Gulak said.
Authorities at other institutes of higher education are threatening students with expulsion from state-funded dormitories if they wait until voting day to cast his ballot, according to Belapan.
Similar pressure to cast early ballots is being brought on employees in state-owned companies, with promises of a longer winter vacation if they vote before December 19.
A state employee casting his ballot on Monday and leaving for vacation immediately could be away from work for close to a month while continuing to receive pay.
The campaign appears aimed primarily at convincing voters to cast ballots early, rather than for any particular candidate, Gulak said.
But Lukashenko's critics have accused him of planning fraud by manipulating ballots, particularly those cast early, before independent vote monitors arrive in the country.
Lukashenko has repeatedly rejected the allegations, saying he enjoys such wide support 'there is no sense in my fixing the vote.'
A former collective farm boss, Lukashenko has been Belarus' unchallenged leader since 1996. He has supported his authoritarian rule by repressing opposition and independent media.