A presidential election is under way in Belarus, where authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko faces no serious competition and is expected easily to win a fifth term.

Even before polls opened Sunday in the former Soviet republic, the Central Election Commission announced that 36 percent of the 7 million registered voters had cast their ballots during five days of early voting.

Opposition leaders denounced the early voting as an ideal instrument for falsifying the result.

Lukashenko faces three nominal rivals in the election: the leaders of two pro-government parties, Sergei Gaidukevich and Nikolai Ulakhovich, and little known opposition activist Tatyana Korotkevich.

During his 21 years of rule, Lukashenko has cracked down on dissent while cultivating an image of a strong leader capable of guaranteeing order and stability.