Polls have opened in Belarus for early voting in the presidential election scheduled for December 19. During the five-day early voting period, the polling stations will be open from 10:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. with a break in the afternoon.
Belarus has 7,094,614 voters.
Voters are required to produce their passports to cast ballots. Other documents that entitle people to vote early include the pension certificate, student identification card, military card (for military servicemen) and certificate of employment (for civil servants).
According to the central election commission, 31.3 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots early in the 2006 presidential election. The early voting turnout reportedly rose from 14.3 percent in the 2001 presidential election and 17.39 percent in the 2004 parliamentary election and referendum.
Mikalay Lazavik, the secretary of the central election commission, told BelaPAN ahead of the early voting period in the ongoing campaign that early voting is a common practice across the world.
"In countries where citizens are free to express their will, there are problems with levels of voter turnout," Mr. Lazavik said. "Ensuring higher levels is a headache for the organizers of the election. In some countries, a minimum turnout threshold has been lowered or abolished. Besides, various electoral technologies are used to prompt people to exercise their right to vote without going to the polling station. They are offered an opportunity to vote via the Internet, by proxy, by fax or using their mobile phones."
The official said that European countries and the United States have implemented early voting, noting that the period runs a total of 75 days in one US state. He said that measures would be taken to prevent fraud during the early voting period. The ballot boxes will be sealed for the afternoon break and after the closure of the polling station every day, he said.
The Belarusian opposition has urged voters not to cast ballots early, fearing widespread ballot-stuffing.
The camp of presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyayew has launched a hotline for recording complaints from university students who are compelled to vote early, while activists of a campaign called "Rights Defenders for Free Election" have appealed to the public to submit photographic and video evidence of compulsion to cast ballots in the period.