Polls open in Belarus

by Adam Richards

Voters began casting their ballots in Belarus on Sunday for the presidential election which is expected to be won by the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. Polling stations opened for some seven million voters in this former Soviet republic at 8 am and close at 8pm and there are ten candidates to choose from, a record figure.

Lukashenko, in power for 16 years, and who has been called "Europe's last dictator" by former U.S. President George W. Bush, is seeking a fourth term at the helm of this country of ten million inhabitants. Elected in 1994 in the first independent presidential election in Belarus, Lukashenko was reelected in 2001 and 2006 after voting irregularities marred and marked by repression of opponents.

In the final days of the campaign, the opposition denounced what they said were massive falsifications on the ballots of voters who voted in advance and could represent up to 30% of those registered to voter.

At the previous presidential in 2006, Mr Lukashenko won 83% of the votes after an election marred by irregularities. Critics accuse the Lukashenko's regime of secretly replacing the ballots of voters who voted in advance. Only 0.25% of the representatives of the opposition are allowed to sit on election commissions and therefore have limited access to vote counting.

As a result of the irregularities, seven of the nine opposition candidates have called for demonstrations at the close of voting in October Square in central Minsk.


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