The Belarusan opposition’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) Chairman Viktar Hanchar made public yesterday the returns of the country’s alternative presidential election, which was conducted from May 6-16. The legitimate parliamentary leadership had mandated the holding of the election in accordance with the 1994 constitution and electoral law. Hanchar reported that 53 percent of all eligible voters had cast ballots, mostly in sealed ballot boxes carried from house to house by thousands of campaign volunteers. A small number of improvised polling stations were set up in the back streets of Minsk and other cities on the final day of the voting. The reported final turnout is consistent with the interim turnouts released by the CEC on an almost daily basis from May 6 on. Hanchar declined to announce which one of the two candidates of the opposition–jailed former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir or the emigre leader of the Popular Front, Zyanon Paznyak–had received more votes.
The reported turnout notwithstanding, the CEC chairman pronounced the election returns legally invalid for three reasons. First, pressure from the authorities made it impossible to carry out normal campaigning. Second, the candidates lacked direct contact with the electorate, while their campaigns lacked access to the mass media and could not properly disseminate their programs. Third, Paznyak dropped out midway through the balloting, leaving a single candidate in the race and confusing the public with attacks on the CEC’s work.
At the same time, Hanchar and other opposition leaders pronounced the election a moral and political success. It punctured President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s claim to express a national consensus, demonstrated that the opposition enjoys broad-based support and would enable the opposition to engage in talks with Lukashenka from a strong position, under the mediation of the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Council of Europe (AP, Reuters, May 19; see the Monitor, May 10-13).
ALIEV RESUMING ACTIVITY AFTER SUCCESSFUL SURGERY.