Belarusians are casting ballots for a new parliament in the authoritarian former Soviet republic that has been making steps toward rapprochement with the West.

There are 448 candidates for the 110 lower-house seats that are being contested Sunday, but opposition leaders hold little hope of establishing a substantial presence in the legislature. The current lower house has no opposition members.

Critics say that tight restrictions on campaigning and state control of the news media inhibit a genuinely free election. There are also concerns that early balloting can be a mechanism for state manipulation of the results. About 25 percent of the electorate have cast ballots early, according to the Central Election Commission.

Hardline President Alexander Lukashenko has led the country since 1994.