The parliamentary election in Belarus last Sunday, which resulted in no opposition member entering parliament, drew rapid condemnation from the European Union. Sanctions against the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are now certain to be renewed when EU foreign ministers meet in late October.
The leader of the observation team sent by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Matteo Mecacci, criticised the election as “not competitive” and election officials for a “lack of neutrality and impartiality”, and expressed “serious concerns” over the counting process.
Of the 110 seats, 109 were decided in the first round. Three parties won seats, all of them supporters of Lukashenka.
The election was largely uncontested, as the two main opposition parties called for a boycott in protest at the restrictions in the run-up. Nonetheless, official figures suggested that turnout was over 74%.
The two European commissioners responsible for policy toward Belarus – Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief, and Štefan Füle, whose mandate includes neighbourhood policy – said on Monday (24 September) that the election was “another missed opportunity”. Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, described the vote as “a mockery of a democratic ballot”, and urged the EU to “finally devise an effective strategy how to deal with Belarus” that would support civil society while sanctioning the country's leaders.
Diplomats in Brussels say that there is no doubt that sanctions will be renewed before they expire on 31 October. Belarusian officials are barred from the EU and their assets have been frozen. In addition, 29 companies belonging to three businessmen linked to the regime are subject to sanctions.
The bigger question is whether the sanctions will be extended – a decision likely to be affected more by post-election developments than the conduct of the election. So far, the opposition has not taken to the streets.
After presidential elections in December 2010, seven presidential candidates and some 700 protestors were arrested. The EU considers nine current prisoners to be political prisoners.