In Belarus, President Aleksandr Lukashenko has been declared the winner in Sunday's presidential election, but controversy continues over the fairness of the election. Despite the criticism, the election could bring an end to the political isolation of Belarus.
Mr. Lukashenko won almost 76 percent of the vote in Sunday's balloting. His main challenger, Vladimir Goncharik, trailed far behind, with only 15 percent. Opposition politicians and many election observers say part of the reason for wide disparity in the voting is that the election was rigged.
At a news conference Monday, observers from three different groups, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, criticized the election, saying among other things that the opposition was intimidated and the independent media shut down.
The head of the OSCE parliamentary assembly, Kimmo Kiljunen, said the election process simply was not fair. "Unfortunately, these presidential elections didn't meet the international standards of democratic elections," he said.
The criticisms did nothing to daunt Mr. Lukashenko's backers. At a separate news conference Monday, they greeted him with cheers and flowers. In his remarks, the Belarusian president described his victory as "elegant and beautiful." And he brushed aside outside criticism of the election, saying that if there weren't any problems, the West would invent some. Mr. Lukashenko said even a blind man could see all the positive aspects of the Belarusian elections.
But in addition to their criticisms, the officials from the Western organizations signaled a change in policy toward Belarus. They said the policy of isolating Belarus and Mr. Lukashenko was doing more harm than good to the Belarusian people. Stef Goris, an official with the Council of Europe, said "Our delegations agreed on the issue, on the principle that we should get away from the isolation because it has been proven to fail. Nothing changed in this country during the years when we had this isolation."
Representatives from the delegations said they were recommending that their member organizations reevaluate their policies toward Belarus, but they did not give any specific details.