Today is crunch day for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko as far as his reputation in the West is concerned. His country is electing a new parliament.
Opposition candidates are contesting two thirds of the 110 seats, more than ever before. Presently they have nobody in Parliament.
Western monitors are being allowed to survey the proceedings.
Lukashenko is banned from visiting Europe, accused of rigging the presidential election two years ago.
But sanctions could be lifted if today’s election is deemed free and fair. The opposition is not convinced and has called on the foreign monitors not to make a positive assessment of the elections just to try to ease Lukashenko out of his isolation.
The observers say the election run-up has appeared freer than in previous campaigns, and political prisoners have been freed. But they still don’t know if they’ll be allowed to watch the count.
Belarus is in conflict with Russia over energy prices and its lukewarm support for the Georgia conflict.
Political watchers think it is trying to hold both Russia and Europe to ransom for its own aims.