Updated at 11:07,12-12-2017

Belarus activists unmoved by election of two opposition MPs

Alec Luhn, The Guardian

Critics of Lukashenko regime say candidates were appointed to appease west, and observers report vote-rigging

Opposition candidates have won seats in parliamentary elections in Belarus for the first time since 2000, though critics of the ruling regime said they had been appointed to appease the west, and independent observers reported widespread vote-rigging.

Anna Konopatskaya, of the United Civic party, won a district in Minsk, and Yelena Anisim, of the Belarusian Language Society, also won a seat. Anisims opponent, Yelena Zhuravlyova, a regime loyalist, unexpectedly withdrew from the race last month.

Leading critics of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 22 years, were unimpressed.

Lukashenko is trying to show that he is creating possibilities [for the opposition], but nothing is actually happening, he just wants money from the west because the economy is headed towards a cliff, said Andrei Sannikov, an activist who challenged Lukashenko in the 2010 presidential race and was imprisoned for two years in a violent crackdown on protests that arose after the flawed vote.

Nikolai Statkevich, another imprisoned 2010 presidential candidate, who was released in 2015, called the elections a farce and asked Belarusians to gather in Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk on Monday night to demand real elections.

Belarus activists unmoved by election of two opposition MPs

President Alexander Lukashenko (right) greets a member of the electoral committee at a polling station in Minsk. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

In February the European Union lifted most of its sanctions against Belarus following the release of political prisoners and a peaceful presidential election in October.

Belaruss state-dominated economy the government owns 80% of all industry shrank by nearly 4% in 2015. Minsk has been negotiating a $3bn (£2.25bn) loan programme with the International Monetary Fund, and Lukashenko said on Sunday that Belarus had met all the organisations requirements except for a demand that the population pay for 100% of its utilities.

Observers reported numerous irregularities in Sundays elections. Although the central electoral commission announced a turnout of 74.8%, the independent group Right to Vote told Radio Liberty that based on the 10 districts where its 1,300 observers had been able to monitor all voting, turnout appeared to be less than 40%.

The Nasha Niva newspaper published photographs of electoral documents from a polling station in Konopatskayas district in Minsk showing discrepancies in the number of unused ballots and a tripling in the number of ballots cast by early and unregistered voters on the last day of polling, which it said was evidence of electoral fraud.

Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections reported that a large number of people had been forced to vote and electoral commissions had inflated turnout.

The procedure of counting votes in Belarus hasnt changed, it remains non-transparent, coordinator Vladimir Labkovich told Radio Liberty.

Few expect that Konopatskaya and Anisim will be able to change the authoritarian style of governance in Belarus given parliaments limited powers and the predominance of MPs loyal to Lukashenko. Indeed, the United Civic party chairman, Anatoly Lebedko, told independent news site Belarusky Partisans after the vote that theres no parliament as such in the country.

Sannikov said: They probably can write signs in some village in Belarusian rather than Russian, or fix up a road, but when the whole system needs perestroika, the improvement of a road in some city or village wont help.