OSCE observer reports mass violations during Belarusian presidential polls

Sunday's presidential elections in Belarus were marred by mass violations of electoral procedures, with more than 800 serious fraud cases registered by international observers, an official monitor from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Wednesday.

"The elections were neither free nor fair, we saw a lot of violations, ballot box stuffing, group voting, a non-transparent process of giving over the protocols from precinct election commissions (PECs) to territorial election commissions (TECs), and we were not able to see how the protocols went from PECs to the Central Election Commission," the observer told RIA Novosti, speaking on conditions of anonymity.

The Belarusian elections produced a landslide victory and fourth consecutive term in office to incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who gained 79.67 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. Lukashenko's closest rival, opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov, gained a mere 2.56 percent.

Electoral procedures were not transparent at "most of the precinct and territorial election commissions," the observer said, including breaches of ballot counting norms.

In one case, "2000 votes were counted during 20 minutes," while "everybody who has experience [of working] in elections organizations or observing elections in different countries would say that it is impossible" to count that many ballots in such a short time, he said.

He also said that in some cases, corrections were apparently introduced to PEC protocols at territorial election commissions, since votes for Lukashenko in those protocols appeared to be "smaller than expected," as well as overall turnout.

An official OSCE statement issued after the polls said the Belarusian elections "indicated that Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments," although it noted "some specific improvements."

"This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed," OSCE observer mission head Tony Lloyd said. "The counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists."

Meanwhile, observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) described the elections as "transparent" and meeting "the requirements of the election legislation and common democratic norms."

"Our mission has not uncovered facts that would shed doubt on the legitimacy of these elections," CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev said after the polls.

The Belarusian opposition took thousands to the streets on Sunday in protest against the results of the polls, which they claimed were rigged. Riot police brutally dispersed the demonstration in Minsk after a crowd tried to storm Parliament. Many people, including several presidential candidates, were injured in clashes with police, and at least 600 people were detained.

Many western governments, including the U.S. administration, have condemned the electoral violence, including the attacks on presidential candidates and violence against journalists and civil society activists.

MOSCOW, December 21 (RIA Novosti correspondent Maria Kuchma)


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