Updated at 15:40,13-12-2017

Lukashenka warns against forcing people to vote

Iryna LEWSHYNA, Naviny.by

Alyaksandr Lukashenka warned on Tuesday that authorities should not compel people to vote in the ongoing elections for the House of Representatives.

Speaking at a meeting with Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the central election commission, on the first day of the early voting stage, Mr. Lukashenka stressed that there should be "nothing artificial" in the elections.

"We should not force people into polling stations, we should conduct the elections worthily, so that they truly become a holiday and we understand that we are doing that for our country and people," the government's news agency BelTA quoted him as saying.

Mr. Lukashenka noted that he would like voter turnout to be as high as possible, because he it would highlight the strong "connection between the government and the public" and how much the public appreciates the legislature's role.

"And yet I stress that people should not be forced into polling stations, they should be asked [to vote]," he said.

Some believe that the West will criticize the elections if a high percentage of the voters cast their ballots early, said Mr. Lukashenka.

"I think we should not be afraid of that," he said. "Very serious media outlets have studied the situation in other countries, no one cares too much about these things there."

Mr. Lukashenka said that it would be more convenient for him to vote early but he would still cast his ballot on the main polling day to avoid criticism.

"So there is no need to care much about whether people will vote early or not early. The main thing is that people should vote. We are doing this for our people," he said.

What matters most is that the elections should not disturb calm and peace in Belarus, according to Mr. Lukashenka.

He added that he would come to the polling station in company with his youngest son Kolya, who has been out of the public eye lately.

"Everyone suddenly wonders why my youngest son has not been seen, I do read [what the media write], including dirty things. I will surely bring my youngest son along as usual. And the children will vote," he said.