A fiery anti-corruption crusader scored a landslide victory as Belarussian voters turned out in force Sunday to elect the former Soviet republic's first president.
Alexander Lukashenko--dubbed the "Belarussian Zhirinovsky" by critics who compare his populist tactics and outspokenness to those of Russian right-winger Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky--received 80% of the vote against Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich, according to Reuters news service.
Lukashenko had outpolled Kebich by a nearly 3-1 margin in first-round balloting June 23, and another high turnout Sunday, similar to the 73% of voters who cast ballots last month, had fueled widespread expectations that the 39-year-old Lukashenko would win by a large margin.
At least 64% of Belarus' 7.4 million eligible voters turned out, the Central Election Commission said an hour before the polls closed Sunday night.
No formal polls on the candidates' popularity were conducted during the brief runoff campaign. But an opinion survey conducted on the eve of the vote showed Belarussians overwhelmingly in favor of change for their conservative nation of over 10.3 million, which has been plagued by a worsening economy.
Lukashenko had captured 45% of the vote in the first round, far outdistancing runner-up Kebich, who got 17%. None of the six candidates last month succeeded in winning the 50% majority necessary for a victory.
During the campaign, Lukashenko vowed to tax the rich, exert strong control over the economy and defeat corruption, "which like an all-devouring octopus has ensnared all government organs with its tentacles."
The 58-year-old Kebich, like Lukashenko, favored closer ties with Russia as a way to rescue the crippled economy. But he was hampered by a bland campaign style and partial culpability for the current economic malaise. He has been prime minister since 1990.