Presidential election in Belarus - last day for deliberation

MINSK, December 18 (Itar-Tass) -- In Belarus, Saturday is the last day of early voting. The country seems to be steering towards another record in the presidential campaign - over the three days of the early expression of will, according to the CEC, almost twelve percent of the voters have cast their ballots. At the previous presidential election in 2006 over the very same three days 9.1 percent of the voters made their choice ahead of time.

For the candidates it is the last day, the last chance to try to win the support of as many voters as possible. And for the citizens there will be the last few hours for a final decision which of the candidates to vote for. After all, this is crucial not only to the future of each of the contenders, but most importantly, to the future of the country.

According to Belarusian legislation the country, in contrast to many other states, does not observe the so-called day of silence, when one day before the primary election day any campaigning for candidates is prohibited. A distinctive feature of this campaign was the participation in the presidential race of an unprecedented number of contenders for the Belarusian presidency. There were ten of them, including the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for the past sixteen years. In the previous election there were four presidential candidates.

On Saturday, the campaigning will continue till midnight. Many candidates are scheduled to meet with voters, the hold press conferences, and to record interviews to foreign television and radio stations. All contenders for the highest office, except for the explicit presidential race favorite - Alexander Lukashenko - took advantage of their right to speak live on state radio and television. For the first time there have been live televised debates by all candidates but for Lukashenko.

The Central Election Commission has completed all preparatory work at all polling stations, it has printed 7.447 million ballot papers. In all, according to the Central Election Commission, a little more than seven million voters will be able to take part.

Apparently, the Central Election Commission expects the election to be held in one round. CEC chief Lydia Yermoshina said back during the registration of candidates said that elections would not require a runoff, and she was sure she would be celebrating Christmas at home.

The voters are actively discussing the topic of candidates' incomes. All of them, by law, have submitted declarations to the CEC for 2009. As it has turned out, the wealthiest contender for president is Alexander Lukashenko. His earnings last year totaled 90 million Belarussian rubles (roughly, about 30 thousand dollars). In second place on the list there is Alexei Mikhalevich with 75 million rubles (25 thousand dollars). Two candidates - Andrei Sannikov and Viktor Tereshchenko - officially earned nothing.

Almost from the beginning of the election campaign the opposition accused the authorities the election was going to be undemocratic and unfair, there are no equal terms for candidates, early voting will be used as a tool for rigging. Most opposition candidates called on their supporters to gather on December 19 after the closing of the polling stations in Minsk's October Square to protest against rigged elections and declare the need for holding new presidential elections without Lukashenko.

In the capital city's October Square the authorities have placed the country's main New Year Tree and arranged a skating rink. Opposition politicians have been calling on their supporters to come to the square with a bag of sand or salt, "to secure one's footing on ice and to avoid possible injury."

In turn, the leaders of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies have been saying the situation in the country on the eve of the presidential election is stable and completely controlled. "The overall level of security in the country allows for safely holding the presidential election, with respect for the law and democratic standards," said the head of the state security committee KGB, Vadim Zaitsev.


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