Human Rights Center Viasna Monitoring of Presidential Elections of the Republic of Belarus 2006
1. Declaration of the Presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus
The Chamber of Representatives declared on December 16, 2005 that the Presidential Elections of the Republic of Belarus would take place on March 19, 2006 according to Article 81 part 3, Article 56, part 1 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus.
According to Article 81, part 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and Article 56, part 1 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, the Elections of the President of Belarus are appointed by the Chamber of Representatives not later than 5 months before the end of the Presidential powers of the incumbent President and are held on Sunday 2 months before the end of the powers of the incumbent President. Since the presidential term of Aliaksandr Lukashenka is over on September 20, 2006 (according to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus that was changed and amended during the referendum of 1996.), the last date of appointing the Presidential Elections of the Republic of Belarus is April 20, 2006, and the last date of elections is June 16, 2006 (Sunday).
It is necessary to admit that the process of appointing the elections took place in the atmosphere of secrecy, there were not discussion and consideration in the public. However, the government was preparing for the election campaign that is going to take place in spring of 2006. The meeting of the Central Election Commission occurred on December 16, the day when the election date was announced; the schedule of the Election Commission was defined, the estimate of expenditure was made, and several resolutions concerning the stages of the campaign was adopted.
So, the Chamber of Representatives adopted a resolution about appoint of the presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus according to the effective legislation of Belarus, however, the elections in March of 2006 make the election campaign very unexpected for the Belarusian society (the campaign is going to be very short) and made the different conditions for different candidates.
2. The problem of legal participation of the incumbent President A.R.Lukashenka in the presidential election.
The problem of legal participation of A.Lukashenka in the presidential elections is constantly discussed by the majority of Belarusian society.
It should be noted that on September 7, 2004 the President of the Republic of Belarus A.Lukashenka issued the decree #431 “On calling a republican referendum”. According to this decree, the following question: “Do you allow the first President of Belarus A.R. Lukashenka to participate in the presidential elections as a candidate to the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus and do you accept Part 1 of the Article 81 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus in the following wording: "the President is elected for five years directly by the citizens of Belarus during general, free, equal, and direct voting?"
A number of experienced Belarusian lawyers, public and political statesmen said the question of the referendum contradicts some constitutional provisions of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus. The wording of the question simply contradicts paragraph 2, part 3 of Article 112 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, according to which questions connected with the election and discharge of the President of the Republic of Belarus cannot be put to the referendum. The changes introduced into Article 81 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus due to the referendum of 2004 provided A.Lukashenka personally with the right to run for presidency without any restrictions. This contradicts Article 22 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, which states the equal rights of all the citizens of Belarus without any exclusion. In addition, the question put to the referendum on September 17, 2004 contradicted Article 8 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On the President of the Republic of Belarus”.
Despite of heated debate in the society and ambiguous opinions, expressed in elation to the referendum (the subject of plebiscite), the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus did not make legal assessment of the question put to the referendum. Simultaneously, the Venetian commission of the Council of Europe concluded that the question put to the referendum simply contradicts the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus and provides illegal privileges for one person.
Besides, the referendum proper (including voting and count of the votes) was subjected to criticism of independent observers. After HRC Viasna had monitored the situation, it made a conclusion that the election of the deputies and the referendum contradicted Belarusian election law, international democratic standards, and openness of the election process.
It should be noted that after the elections and referendum of October 17, 2004 EU Council for general and internal affairs decided to ban entry of the head of the Central Election Commission Lidzia Iarmoshina to the territory of the European Union because of significant violations and falsifications during the elections and referendum.
Because the changes introduced into the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus during the referendum of October 17, 2004 and the referendum proper were illegal, the participation of A.Lukashenka in the presidential elections is also illegal.
3. Social and political situation in Belarus before the elections
Social and political situation in Belarus before the elections was very complicated and was getting worse with the approach of the election campaign.
The government of Belarus took a number of measures to restrict the activity of political parties of Belarus, NGOs, and independent media.
Human rights situation in Belarus in 2005 significantly deteriorated as compared to the previous years. In 2005 arrests of the political opponents continued, people were also arrested for their political views. Six polititians are now in prison. They are Mikola Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Andrei Klimau, Mikhail Marynich, Siarhei Skrabiets, and Valery Levaneuski. Three of them, Mikhail Marynich, Siarhei Skrabiets, and Valery Levaneuski took part in the elections of 2002 as candidates to the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus. Mikalai Statkevich intended to run for presidency. The situation with the people who intended to run for presidency and later got to prison shows that we deal with the mopping up of the political field. At the beginning of the election campaign, a number of criminal cases were initiated against the representatives of youth democratic organizations.
Measures that the government took against independent media are of great concern. The authorities substantially restricted freedom of speech, introduced censorship, and monopolized electronic media. The number of independent social and political periodicals has decreased by more than 3 times for a period since the last presidential elections, including 20 editorial offices of independent newspapers that were closed since 2004. At the end of the last year the printed media experienced the strongest pressure, i.e., sixteen Belarusian republican and regional newspapers were not included into the subscription catalog, they could not be distributed via Belposhta and Saiuzdruk. One of the main independent newspapers of Belarus Narodnaia Volia was subjected to different forms of pressure during the last year, including suits with extremely high fines that were unreasonable.
So, the citizens did not have opportunity to get alternative information before the elections. All these events occur in the presence of total governmental propaganda and intensive ideological activities. The facts presented here show the influence of government on the election campaign, which initially provided unequal conditions for the rivals of A.Lukashenka.
In 2005 the authorities made the control over the society stronger. Ideological work is conducted at enterprises and universities. Special attention is paid to students and other young people. On 23.05.2005 the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Belarus distributed a document among the principles of schools and the administrations of universities “About the measures on preventing the involvement of pupils and students into political activities”. Despite the fact that the document was released “for confidential use”, its contents became known to the society. In this document the Ministry of Education proposed that the principles and administrations should intensify their ideological activities and “make all possible efforts to prevent any form of criticism and antigovernment speeches”. Instructors were also proposed to positively influence the students who participate in unauthorized actions which are arranged by the opposition, provide internal investigation, educate students in an appropriate atmosphere, and send down those students who participated in unauthorized actions.
In 2005 some students were sent down because of their political activity, KGB reinforced its pressure on young activists.
In 2005 many changes were introduced in the effective legislation and many new laws were adopted, which reinforced pressure on the opponents. New versions of the Laws of the Republic of Belarus, e.g., "On Public Associations" and “On Political parties" took effect. The provisions of these laws greatly restricted the activity of NGOs, democratic parties, and the opportunities to create new parties and NGOs. The authorities paid special attention to the regional branches of political parties. The Ministry of Justice and its regional departments required to re-register the regional structures of the parties whose legal addresses belonged to the housing stock (private houses and flats). Because it is impossible to find new legal addresses in nonresidential premises within the term determined by the Ministry of Justice, a lot of regional structures of the parties were liquidated by the justice department of the regional executive committees. For example, the BPF party lost 90 regional structures and BSDP(H) lost 60 of its regional structures. According to the Election Code, political parties can send their representative to election commissions only if these parties have the organizational structures of the lowest rank. So, the political parties of many regions did not have any opportunity to send their representatives to the election commissions before the elections. The most significant response in the public was produced by the changes in the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On internal troops”, which gave to the President right to make order for using weapons, a new Law of the Republic of Belarus “On preventing extremism”, and the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Introduction of changes in the Criminal Code and Criminal Code of Practice of the Republic of Belarus”. According to these changes, the article 193.1 was introduced into the Criminal Code. This article provides for the criminal liability for organization or participation of unregistered political parties, public associations, and religious organizations or foundations. The article 369.1 is the other article introduced into the Criminal Code and it provides for criminal liability for defamation of the Republic of Belarus (distribution of false information about political, economical, social or international situation of Belarus to another state, foreign or international organization). The representatives of the official authorities directly said that the changes introduced into the Criminal Code are connected to the future election campaign.
The Chair of KGB, general Stsiapan Sukharenka did not deny the political character of the changed in his interviews. In paticular, he sais, that the changes are made for certain people and first trials are supposed to take place on the KGB Day (December 20, 2005). The Law on introduction of changes in The Criminal Code and the Criminal Code of Practice took effect on January 1, 2006.
And now we can say that the government uses the strategy of intimidation before the election campaign 2006. Pressure ans open political persecutionof the opponents of the current regime will certainly play part in the future events. Open, public, transparent and fair elections are harly possible in Belarus.
4. Registration of initiative groups
The order of registration of the initiayive groups of people for nomination of candidates to the position of President of Belarus is by the article 61 of the Election Code and by decisions of the Central Election Commission.
According ot the article 61 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, nomination of a candidate to the position of President of Belarus is conducted by the initiative group represented by 100 people and more.
The list of members of the initiative group with the name of the head of the group is submitted to the Central Election Commission at least 85 days before the election day by the person who is going to be nominated to the position President of the Republic of Belarus. The list must contain information about the name, patronymic name, last name, date of birth, profession, positio, pkace of work and place of living, membership in a party of a person who is proposed to be elected to the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus, and the name, patronymic name, last name, date of birth, place of living of ech member of the initiative group.
The Central Commission considers the applications during 5 days, registers the initiative group, and issues a certificate and subscription lists for collecting the signatures of voters. The inititive group cannot be registered in case of violations of the Election Code. Refusal of registration can be appealed by the initiative group during three days in the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus (the appeal must be signed by the majority of the members of the intiative group).
The order of submitting the docoments about the registration of initiative groups is also regulated by the Resolution of the Central Commision of 16.12.2005 г. # 34 “On Expalnation of the applicatin of provision of part 2, article 61 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, which provides the submittion of documents for registration of initiative group during the elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus in 2006”.
According to the Regulation of the Central Commission and the schedule of organization measure for preparing and conducting the elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus, which are approved by the Central Commission, the citizens of the Republic of Belarus who want to be nominated as candidates to the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus should have submitted applications for registration of the initiative groups and the lists of members the initiative groups not later that on December 23 inclusive.
On December 23 A.Vaitivich, S. Haidukevich, A.Kazulin, A.Lukashenka, A.Milinkevich, Z.Pazniak, S.Skrabiets, and V.Fralou submitted documents about registration of their initiative groups.
The Central Commission conduct a sitting on 27.12.2005 and considered the question about the registration of the above-mentioned candidated ot the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus. The Commission decides to register all the initiative groups.
It was discovered that the initiative groups of A.Vaitovich, V.Fralou, and A.Milinkevich have members in their lists that are under legal age (three members in the initiative group of each candidate). The registration of the initiative group of A.Milinkevich was approved with the issue about inadmissible violation of the Election Law, which was expressed by the election campaign that had started before the registration of Milinkevich as a candidate to the position of the President of Belarus. The Election Commission informed that there were a number of cases in Minsk and some regions of distributing printed material about Milinkevich. It should be noted that the distribution of any printed materials in any time is not regulated by the regulations of the Election Code and, consequently, cannot be the violation of this Code.
The Central Commision also discovered that the lists of the initiative group of S.Skrabiets had members who did not know anything about their participation in these initiative groups. However, the Commission desided to register such groups. At the time of the submission of the application to the Central Commision Skrabiets was kept in the detention center in Minsk on a charge of violation of a number of articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. However, because Skrabiets was not brought to criminal responsibility by court, he still could use his right to be elected.
The most discussed question was the registration of the initiative group of the leader of CCP BPF Zianon Pazniak. He matter is that Pazniak has not lived in Belarus since 1996 (he is physically not in Belarus) but received political asylum in the USA. During the discussion of this question the members of the Central Electin Commissin split into to groups. But the majority (7 positive opinions to 3 negative opinions) approved the registration of the initiative group of Z.Pazniak. The decisin of the Election Commission was determined by the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus “On the legal position of the Constitutional Court reguarding the concept “the citizen of the Republic of Belarus by birth” , which is provided by the Article 80 of the Constitution of the Repulic of Belarus of August 19. 2001.
The Constitutional Court decided that Pazniak has the right to be nominated to the position of the President of Belarus because he did not apply to the permanent residence in the USA and is a citizen of the Republic of Belarus, has registration in Minsk, and he is the leader of the registered CCP BPF party registered by the Ministry of Justice. So, the Commission registered the initiative group of Pazniak during the election campaign in 2001 and now in 2006 the Commission also decided to register his initiative group because his status has not changed since 2001.
A.Lukashenka had the largest initiative group among the candidates. The head of the group was V.Sheiman who at that time was the Head of the Presidantial Administration. After the registration of A.Lukashenka as a candidate to the position of President of Belarus, V.Sheiman resigned despite the fact that the Administrative Code allows retaining positions during the election campaigns. The authorities wanted to underline that all the candidates have equal opportunities. However, President Lukashenka unlimitedly uses his official powers for vast propaganda in governmental media, which made the chances of the other candidates very poor.
Simultanously, part 1 of Article 77 of the Election Code provides requirement to the candidates to the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus (except the incumbent President who run for Presidency for the second time) that they should take an unpaid leave of absence. A.Lukashenka runs for Presidency for the third time, which is not provided by the Election Code. And he also should take an unpaid leave of absence. This peculiarity underlines the contradictions between the Election Code and the results of the last referendum.
1. The elections of the President of Belarus are called by the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus within the terms provided by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and the effective election legislation.
2. Participation of the President of the Republic of Belarus in the elections of the President of Belarus is illegal.
3. Registration of initiative groups was conducted according to the effective legislation.
4. The elections are taking place in the conditions of information isolation of the citizens of Belarus, total propaganda via state media, under the administrative pressure, and open political prosecution of the regime opponents by the authorities.