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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Lukashenko poised for new term
An elderly villager dries hay on an asphalt road near Smilovichi, Belarus
Much of Belarus remains in a time warp
The Belarusian presidential election on Sunday will be the second since the country gained independence 10 years ago.

It is widely expected to result in victory for the incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko, a former state farm director who won a shock victory in 1994, when voters warmed to him as a "man of the people" running against an aloof figure from the country's Soviet-era elite.

Mr Lukashenko has preserved as much as possible of the socialist economy, and demanded absolute loyalty from parliament and the media, using the security forces to clamp down on dissent.

He was originally elected for a five-year term, but extended this to seven years in a heavily manipulated referendum in 1996. Many Western states ceased to regard him as a legitimate leader when the original five-year term ran out in 1999.

Alexander Lukashenko inspects the gold ingots at Belarus's State Bank
Mr Lukashenko harks back to the relative prosperity of the Soviet era

Aged 46, Mr Lukashenko is still popular in the provinces but his popularity in the capital, Minsk, has declined. He will need to obtain more than 50% of the vote to avoid a second round on 23 September.

Some observers suggest Mr Lukashenko may want to match the 80% he won in the second round of the election in 1994, in which case, they say, he will have to resort to massive vote-rigging.

The other candidates:

Vladimir Goncharik
Goncharik: says he wants good ties with both Moscow and the West

Vladimir Goncharik is the candidate of a broad anti-Lukashenko alliance, known as The Five. Aged 61, he is the chairman of the Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions, and a member of the old parliament, which was disbanded by Mr Lukashenko after the 1996 referendum. He says his priorities, if elected, would be to liberalise the economy, lift Belarus out of its international isolation, and to boost the powers of the parliament vis--vis the presidency.

Sergei Gaidukevich
Gaidukevich: seen by some as a Lukashenko ally out to split the opposition vote

Sergei Gaidukevich, the 46-year-old leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, has launched scathing attacks on both the authorities and the opposition. His fervent patriotism and outspoken style are reminiscent of the leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but Mr Gaidukevich denies there is any link between them. He accuses Mr Lukashenko of populism and political bankruptcy and predicts that he will be overthrown like Slobodan Milosevic.

Semion Domash a pro-Western advocate of market reforms and the rule of law, withdrew his candidacy on 22 August in favour of Vladimir Goncharik, and is now his election agent.

Polls:

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Lukashenko may be hard-pressed to win in the first round. They suggest a rating of between 40% and 50% nationwide, and some 30% in Minsk.

Map of Belarus

Poll results for Mr Goncharik have come in between 2% and 10% nationwide; one poll suggested support of 27% in Minsk. Mr Goncharik is likely to pick up votes from supporters of Mr Domash, who achieved ratings of between 5% and 12% before withdrawing from the race.

One poll has suggested that Mr Gaidukevich could take 9% of the vote in Minsk.

In June, one in three voters said they thought the election would not be free and fair, while nearly one in two said they thought it would be.

A poll in Minsk in August suggested a high turnout of 79%.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"Belarus is widely seen as the last autocratic state in eastern Europe"
See also:

08 Sep 01 | Europe
OSCE denies Belarus claims
19 Jun 98 | Europe
Alexander Lukashenko: a profile
01 Aug 01 | Europe
Belarus leader accuses OSCE
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Belarus
22 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Belarus stuck in a timewarp
07 Jun 01 | Europe
The disappeared of Belarus
13 Jan 01 | Europe
Belarus courts US foes
08 Sep 01 | Media reports
Belarus gays parade in election fever
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