Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he addresses the media after casting his vote during the parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus, November 17 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he addresses the media after casting his vote during the parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus, November 17 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Minsk  — Opposition groups in Belarus lost their only two seats in parliamentary elections criticised by international observers, as the country’s authoritarian leader focused on looming trade negotiations with Russia.

The vote “did not meet important international standards for democratic elections”, Margareta Cederfelt, who leads the short-term observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told reporters on Monday  in the capital, Minsk.

The OSCE also has concerns about whether results from Sunday’s elections were counted and reported honestly, she said, adding that the “restrictive environment” in Belarus had “inhibited” opposition participation.

The newly elected 110-seat lower house of parliament will be packed with loyalists to President Alexander Lukashenko, who has controlled the former Soviet republic of 9.5-million since 1994. The two sitting opposition deputies and many other opposition activists were barred from running. Among the newly elected members is Maria Vasilevich, the 2018 Belarusian representative to the Miss World competition.

Critics say the parliament is little more than a rubber stamp. The outgoing set of deputies, elected in 2016, did not vote down a single piece of draft law submitted by the president or government.

Lukashenko, who faces his own re-election campaign in 2020, has recently made overtures to the European Union as the Kremlin increases pressure on Minsk to integrate with Russia.

In November Lukashenko made his first official trip to the EU since it dropped sanctions against him in 2016, ahead of negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on energy issues and integration.

“They keep palming off new conditions on us, and as a result we keep losing, losing, and losing something in the economy,” Lukashenko said about his country’s tie-up with Russia as he cast his ballot in Minsk. “Who the heck needs a union like that?”

Bloomberg