France, Germany and Poland on Friday (7 August) called on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to ensure a “free and fair” election in the former Soviet republic Sunday as fears of irregularities mounted.
Foreign ministers from the three EU nations released a joint statement deploring the absence of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe.
“We urge the Belarus authorities to conduct the presidential election in a free and fair way, especially by ensuring independent surveillance of the vote by local observers,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas and Jacek Czaputowicz said in the statement.
The OSCE’s absence will be the first for a national election in Belarus since 2001, due to the lack of an invitation from the government. The results of the last four presidential elections were not recognised as fair by OSCE observers.
The foreign ministers also pointed to reports of electoral irregularities in early voting for those who will not be able to go to the polls on Sunday (9 August).
Lukashenko has ruled over the ex-Soviet country wedged between Russia and Europe with an authoritarian grip for 26 years and has cracked down on an emboldened opposition in the lead-up to the election.
His leading rival, 37-year-old Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, is running in place of her jailed husband and has drawn massive crowds at rallies across the country in an unprecedented display of frustration with Lukashenko’s rule.
The three foreign ministers called for the release of prisoners detained for political reasons, and urged the government to refrain from any violence or violations of “civil and political freedoms”.
They also warned against further deterioration of EU-Belarus relations, after “a difficult but promising dialogue” in recent years.