MINSK, Belarus (AP) — International vote observers condemned parliamentary elections in Belarus as lacking in competition and said Monday that potential candidates were denied the right to speak, organize and run for office.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in its assessment of Sunday's election that the vote did not meet international standards.
Belarus' parliament has long been considered a rubber-stamp body for President Alexander Lukashenko's policies. He has ruled the former Soviet nation since 1994 and Western observers have criticized all recent elections in Belarus as undemocratic.
The main opposition parties had boycotted the election to protest the detention of political prisoners and opportunities for election fraud.
Only deputies supporting the policies of Lukashenko won seats in the 110-seat legislature.
"This election was not competitive from the start," said Matteo Mecacci, leader of the OSCE's short-term observer mission. "A free election depends on people being free to speak, organize and run for office, and we didn't see that in this campaign."
The OSCE's critical assessment is likely to cement Belarus' diplomatic isolation.
The United States and the European Union have imposed economic and travel sanctions on the Belarusian government over its crackdown on opposition groups and independent news media.
While the OSCE acknowledged recent improvements to the electoral law and noted that many election-day procedures were handled positively, it echoed complaints by local observers about the vote count.
"Observers were not given a meaningful opportunity to observe the count and evaluated the process negatively in a significant number of polling stations observed," the OSCE said in a statement accompanying its report.
Local groups estimated the overall turnout as being almost 19 percent lower than the official 74.3 percent figure.
The OSCE also lamented lack of media coverage of the entire range of candidates