Human Rights Center "Viasna": Parliamentary Election. Analysis and Preliminary Conclusions: Stage of Initiative Groups Registration
Elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus – 2004
Analysis and Preliminary Conclusions: Stage of Initiative Groups Registration
1. Legal Regulation of the Procedure of Initiative Group Registration
The procedure of nomination and registration of contenders for the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly is regulated by the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus. The Central Election Commission did not issue any special Rulings which explain the Election Code provisions regulating the procedure of initiative group registration.
According to Article 65 of the Election Code, nomination of a candidate to the Chamber of Representatives is carried out by a group of voters (an initiative group) of not less than 10 people. The list of initiative group members with indicated group leader shall be submitted to an appropriate district election commission no later than 65 days before the election (in this election, the deadline is 12 August 2004). The list of initiative group members is attached to the application for group registration. The documents shall be submitted by a person who intends to run for the parliament. The list of initiative group members shall contain first, middle, and last name, date of birth, profession, position (occupation), place of employment and residence, and party membership of a person proposed for nomination for parliament, as well as full name, date of birth, and place of residence of each member of the initiative group and its leader.
Within 5 days a district commission shall consider an application, register an initiative group and issue certificates and signature lists to initiative group members.
An initiative group may be denied registration if the Election Code is violated.
According to CEC recommendations “Organizational and legal issues of the work of district election commissions for election of deputies to the Chamber of Representatives of the Republic of Belarus”, an initiative group may be denied registration in the following cases:
• If a person who intends to be a candidate is not a citizen of the Republic of Belarus, or does not live on the territory of the Republic of Belarus;
• If the number of initiative group members is less than it its provided by the Election Code;
• If the principle of free and voluntary participation in the election is violated while forming the initiative group;
• If the group includes citizens who do not have the electoral right;
• In other cases of violation of the election legislation.
The applicant shall be informed about the decision not to register the initiative group no later than the next day after such decision was made, or it shall be sent to the applicant by a registered letter within the same time.
We should point out that Article 65 of the Election Code imposes only one indispensable condition which might lead to denial in initiative group registration: “the group shall consist of not less than 10 people in order to be registered”. Other grounds for non-registration, listed in the CEC Recommendations, are set by other articles of the Election Code.
In particular, Article 57 (only citizens of the Republic of Belarus are eligible to become candidates); Article 4 (citizens of the Republic of Belarus who have attained to the age of 18 years have the right to participate in the election. Citizens found incapable by a court or kept in places of confinement under a court sentence shall have no right to participate in the election); and Article 5 (participation in the election of the deputies of the Chamber of Representatives is free and voluntary, participation or non-participation in the election is voter’s personal decision).
2. Registration of Initiative Groups of Independent Contenders
The process of registration of initiative groups ended on 17 August 2004.
635 initiative groups applied for registration, 71 groups were denied registration.
For the first time in Belarusian elections so many initiative groups were denied registration. The following table shows comparative data of initiative group registration in three elections: election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus – 2000, election to Local Councils – 2003, and election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus – 2004.
Parliamentary election – 2000
Applied for registration 475 + 88 (during repeat election)
Registered 462 + 86 (during repeat election)
Denied registration 13 (3.7%) +2 (0.88%) (during repeat election)
Local election – 2003
Applied for registration 3094
Denied registration 15 (0.48%)
Parliamentary election -- 2004
Applied for registration 635
Denied registration 71** (11.2%)
* 5 initiative groups were registered after appealing to the Central Election Commission
** 6 contenders recalled their applications after registration of initiative groups
We should point out that the overwhelming majority of unregistered initiative groups were groups nominating candidates who are members of pro-democratic parties or independent public figures.
Results of initiative group registration among members of pro-democratic political parties
Applied for registration 38
Denied registration 6
Applied for registration 54
Denied registration 3
Applied for registration 24
Denied registration 3
Applied for registration 16
Denied registration 3
Applied for registration 6
Denied registration 1
Applied for registration 50
Denied registration 15
In some cases initiative groups were denied registration on the ground of formal inaccuracies in applications and lists of initiative groups. Most frequent inaccuracy was inclusion of under-age citizens or individuals without citizenship of the Republic of Belarus into initiative groups. According to Clause 5 Article 42 of the Election Code, district election commissions shall assist with the procedure of candidate nomination. However, in the majority of cases district election commissions did not point out the mistakes in the application and the necessity to correct the inaccuracies, but kept this information in secret until the moment of registration. Hence, instead of assisting in candidate nomination, district election commissions have demonstrated a certain interest in non-registration of initiative groups of individuals who are uncontrolled by the authorities.
The main ground for non-registration of initiative groups was violation of Article 5 of the Election Code. According to Article 5, election to the Chamber of Representatives is free and voluntary: a voter is to personally decide whether to participate in the election, and who to vote for.
In the majority of cases violation of the principle of free and voluntary election was grounded on written statements submitted by initiative group members to district election commissions. In their statements those people stated that they had been included into initiative groups without their knowledge, as a result of deceit or pressure from the person who applied for nomination as a candidate.
Immediately after beginning of initiative group registration procedure information about pressure on initiative group members started to come in from different parts of the country. We received numerous reports about pressure on group members by representatives of the executive authorities, top-managers of state-run companies, and in some cases – by district election commissioners. Analysis of the obtained information leads to conclusion about a designed national-level campaign. The authorities actively pressurized citizens employed by state-run companies on the basis of short-term working contracts. They were threatened that their contracts would not be extended if they refused to sign the statement about their involuntary participation in the initiative group.
For example, on August 4 Siarhei Salash, member of BPF Party, applied for registration of his initiative group to Barysaw city district election commission # 77. The next day members of the initiative group found themselves under strong pressure. Some of them got anonymous phone calls with threats and demands to confirm that their membership was not voluntary. On Sunday, August 8, representatives of the district election commission visited Tamara Sadchanka, member of Salash’s initiative group. Under their pressure the woman was forced to refuse from membership in a written form. After a talk with Siarhei Salash she wrote a new application where she confirmed the fact of pressure on her from the election commission and her wish to be member of the initiative group. In the morning of August 9 another team member, Halina Bashkova, was visited at her summer house by top managers of the state company she worked for. They threatened to fire her (not to extend the term of her contract) and demanded from her to leave the group. The woman was afraid to lose her job and signed the statement. The district commission used her statement as the ground not to register Siarhei Salash’s initiative group.
Polatsk city authorities pressurized initiative group members of Henadz Voranaw, UCP member (Polatsk city election district # 28). They were threatened with problems at college (Polatsk State University). The bigger part of Voranaw’s team was forced to refuse from membership in writing. They agreed to help the candidate anonymously. The candidate was denied registration of his initiative group.
On 6 August Alexander Milinkevich applied to election commission of Shchuchyn election district with the list of his initiative group members. He handed his application to Ivan Sakalowski, head of the election commission. Simultaneously, Ivan Sakalowski is deputy head of Shchuchyn district executive committee. The same very day teacher Maria Budzko, one of the initiative group members, had a conversation with the school principal. Bershty school principal confessed she was executing the order of Uladzimir Dubok, head of Shchuchyn education board, and suggested the teacher should drop out of the initiative group. The principal referred to Dubok’s warning that otherwise the teacher might lose her job. According to the school principal, Dubok told her, KGB had already a file on the teacher.
Pressure on initiative group members by representatives of the executive authorities, district commissions, and state employers of initiative group members is a new mechanism of control over the election process. It violates the principle of free and voluntary participation in the election and violates the electoral rights of citizens.
Pressure on initiative group members by executive authorities and district commissions with the purpose not to register the groups should be regarded as a serious obstacle aimed at restricting possibilities of independent democratic candidates to participate in the election.
3. Appealing Negative Decisions of District Commissions
Article 5 of the Election Code sets the procedure of appealing decisions of district commissions to deny registration to initiative groups. Decisions of district election commission may be appealed within 3 days to Central Election Commission. Decision of Central Election Commission may be appealed within 3 days to the Supreme Court. The complaint shall be signed by more than one half of the initiative group members.
The Central Election Commission received 27 appeals against decisions of district election commissions. Five appeals were satisfied. Six appeals were sent to the Supreme Court when the Central Election Commission failed to satisfy them.
In the conditions of intimidation and pressure on potential witnesses it is almost impossible to prove the fact of pressure on initiative group members by local executive bodies, managers of state-owned enterprises and representatives of district commissions (who in many cases are local officials at the same time). Taking this fact into account, some potential candidates decided not to appeal the decisions of district commissions. For instance, in the majority of cases BSDP (NH) members decided not to appeal the decisions of district commissions to the Central Election Commission because they didn’t see any prospects in such appeals.
According to Lidya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Election Commission, “such actions lead to administrative or criminal responsibility, depending on degree of pressure. The Central Election Commission does not have the right to institute criminal or administrative charges that is why all complaints about such cases will be forwarded to prosecutor’s office”. Hence, the Central Election Commission has practically avoided consideration of complaints in essence. In their complaints the applicants asked to cancel decisions of district commissions, and did not raise the issue of initiating criminal or administrative cases.
The Central Election Commission forwarded 8 complaints with information about pressure on initiative group members by representatives of the executive authorities to the prosecutor’s office. According to CEC head Lidya Yarmoshyna, if the facts of pressure are proved, the people guilty will be held accountable under the administrative or criminal law. If the facts are not proved, the applicants will be held accountable for slander.
At the same time, Article 65 of the Election Code sets 3 days to appeal decisions of district commissions from the moment the decision was made. Even in case the prosecutor’s office establishes the fact of pressure on initiative group members, the decision of non-registration will not be cancelled.
Besides that, complaints forwarded to the prosecutor’s office might be later used by law-enforcing bodies as an instrument for pressure on candidates.
1. The distinctive feature of this stage of the election campaign is a comparatively high number of denials in initiative group registration.
2. The main ground for non-registration of initiative groups is loose interpretation of Article 5 of the Election Code.
3. The authorities carry out a designed campaign of intimidation and pressure on members of initiative groups of representatives of pro-democratic political parties and public figures who were nominated for the Chamber of Representatives.
4. There are cases of gross interference of the executive bodies in the election process and of violation of the election legislation by the election commissions.
5. On this stage the election process does not comply with the international election standards, the principles of publicity and openness. At the same time there are facts of gross violation of the principle of free and voluntary participation in the election, and violation of the electoral rights of citizens.