MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus’s presidential election fell short of democratic standards, international monitors said on Monday, after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a fifth term in a vote that may lead to an easing of relations with the West.
The West has long ostracised Belarus because of its human rights record and clamp-down on political dissent. But moves by Lukashenko, including the pardoning of six opposition figures in the run-up to the election, suggests he could be seeking to improve his image abroad.
“It is clear that Belarus still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its democratic commitments,” said Kent Hasted, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission for the election, in a statement.
“The recent release of political prisoners and a welcoming approach to observers were positive developments. However, the hope that this gave us for broader electoral progress was largely unfulfilled.”
He expressed particular disappointment over shortcomings during the counting and tabulation of votes.
On Sunday Lukashenko, who won by a landslide 83.5 percent, said Belarus had fulfilled all commitments for free and fair elections.
The European Union has said it could lift its sanctions on Belarus, including those on Lukashenko himself, after Sunday’s vote, barring any last-minute crackdown.
The lifting of restrictions would be a boost for Belarus’s economy, which has been battered by a currency crisis in Russia, its main ally and key trading partner. It could also pave the way for increased foreign investment.
Belarus’ gross domestic product shrank by 3.5 percent in the January-August period and the average monthly wage has fallen by about a third in dollar terms since the start of the year to $420.
Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Richard Balmforth