The central election commission on Thursday granted registration as presidential candidates to 10 out of the 11 contenders who had applied for it.
The commission`s meeting was attended by all of the presidential hopefuls but Alyaksandr Lukashenka, poet Uladzimir Nyaklyayew and Vital Rymashewski, co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party. They were represented by the heads of their nomination groups.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of the central election commission, said that all of the contenders but businessman Uladzimir Pravalski had gathered more than the required minimum of 100,000 valid ballot-access signatures.
In particular, 100,870 valid signatures had been submitted by Ryhor Kastusyow, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front; 1,110,149 for Mr. Lukashenka; 111,399 for Ales Mikhalevich, a former deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front; 180,073 for Mr. Nyaklyayew; 123,206 for Yaraslaw Ramanchuk, deputy chairman of the United Civic Party; 102,817 for Mr. Rymashewski; 142,023 for Andrey Sannikaw, a former deputy foreign minister; 111,159 for Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the Narodnaya Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party; 109,012 for economist Viktar Tsyareshchanka; and 104,102 for Dzmitry Uss, a businessman resident in Minsk.
The central election commission said that Mr. Pravalski`s nomination group had collected just 118 valid signatures, while the other signatures were nothing but photocopies of those signatures.
Mr. Pravalski said that he would appeal the decision.
The other 10 contenders were granted access to the ballot, although the commission said that Mr. Nyaklyayew had not stated his ownership of 20 shares of a stock company in his income and property declaration. "We may deny him registration but since his nomination group has been the most active one I propose that we register him," Mr. Lazavik said.
Vasil Lyavonaw, who represented Mr. Nyaklyayew at the ceremony, stressed that the shares had generated no income. "Their value is 60 rubels ($0.02)," he said.
Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the central election commission, described the error as minor and called for granting Mr. Nyaklyayew access to the ballot. Mr. Uss was also registered as a candidate although his property and income declaration had allegedly understated his last year`s income by 4.5 million rubels. "This is not a significant error as its amount does not exceed 20 percent of the stated income," Mr. Lazavik said.
Some of the newly registered candidates used their short speeches at the ceremony to criticize the conduct of the presidential election campaign. "I don`t think that it is liberal; there`s no freedom of speech, no freedom of campaigning, uncomfortable and unfit venues have been allocated for meetings with voters, the opposition has low representation on election commissions," Mr. Kastusyow said.
"The country`s further development is impossible without a democratic election," Mr. Statkevich said. "I see that preparations are underway for vote rigging and will oppose it."
"Precinct election commissions` members are appointed by local authorities in our country," Mr. Uss said. "An amendment to the Electoral Code is needed that would allow candidates to send their representatives to them [precinct commissions]. There will be no democratic election without this." Mr. Ramanchuk suggested that all of the candidates should be allowed to make speeches at the All-Belarusian People`s Assembly that will be held two weeks before the election.
Pavel Sevyarynets, a prominent opposition politician who represented Mr. Rymashewski, called on the Belarusian leadership to "repent their deception of the people.""Lukashenka has no right to run in the election. Sooner or later we will build a country based on Christian values rather than lies," he said.
Mr. Sannikaw, who leads an opposition group called European Belarus, said that Belarus "started sliding into dictatorship when Viktar Hanchar was removed from the post of head of the central election commission.""The people has the right to elect its leaders. I promise to do my utmost for Belarus to become democratic," he said.
Mr. Tsyareshchanka expressed gratitude to the authorities for securing a more democratic presidential campaign than in the past. "We are choosing the country`s future. I will make every effort for the stabilization of relations with Russia and the West, the improvement of the economy. I am certain that the Belarusians are a smart people that will make the right choice," he said.
Mr. Mikhalevich expressed satisfaction with the initial stages of the election campaign. "There are grounds to speak about liberalization. But it is the voting day that will show the true picture of the election campaign," he warned.
Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkow, head of Mr. Lukashenka`s nomination group, thanked voters for signing for the incumbent leader`s ballot-access bid and the group`s members for their active work.