Polling stations opened in Belarus on Tuesday for early voting in the elections for the House of Representatives.
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 between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. The main voting day in the elections is September 23.
There are a total of 300 candidates vying for the lower parliamentary chamber`s 110 seats.
As many as 375 parliamentary hopefuls were originally granted access to the ballot in the elections, but the candidates representing the United Civic Party and the Belarusian Popular Front pulled out from the parliamentary race earlier this month, condemning the elections as neither free nor fair.
When reached by BelaPAN, Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of the central election commission, defended Belarus` early voting procedure. Many European countries and some states in the USA have far longer early voting periods, he said. "Our country has a very short early voting period. But for some reason the mission of the OSCE/ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] considers it necessary to shorten or abolish early voting altogether," Mr. Lazavik said.
The official acknowledged that authorities in urban localities would take efforts to encourage people to vote early. Young mobile people make up a large proportion of the urban population and "students, young workers seek to go to the countryside on weekends to help complete farm work or simply get some rest," he explained.
Mr. Lazavik said that urging residents of university and factory dormitories to cast their ballots during the early voting period was a normal practice.
Opponents of the government and independent observers say that ballot-stuffing is widespread during early voting in Belarus` elections.
As many as 682 international observers had been accredited by the central election commission to monitor the elections as of September 17. Domestic observers represent both pro-government and pro-opposition groups.
The pro-democratic Campaign for Fair Elections has pledged to deploy observers at 1000 polling stations during early voting and on the main election day.