Monitoring of the electoral campaign: the general public and political atmosphere is disturbing
By his decree #344 of 24 January 2008 Alexander Lukashenka appointed the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the fourth convocation to 28 September 2008.
Since then the work of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Belarus has been open to the general public. The sittings of the commission were attended by observers from NGOs and political parties and representatives of mass media. However, the commission adopted its rulings without any discussions among its members, which shows that the procedure of decision-taking at the CEC was a mere formality.
While adopting its rulings the Central Electoral Commission did not take into consideration the OSCE recommendations which had been made after the previous electoral campaigns. For instance, the CEC adopted no rulings to regulate the rights of the observers, aimed at realization of the principles of openness and transparency of the electoral process in general.
During the reporting period the Central Electoral Commission adopted 13 rulings. Seven of them were put to its official website. The website also includes sample documents, announcements, the schedule and instructions for district and polling station electoral commissions. These documents are presented for general access. Human rights activists could also familiarize with the six rulings of the Central Electoral Commission which were not put to the website.
By its ruling #6 of 24 April 2008 the Central Electoral Commission established the average number of electors per electoral district – 64 042 persons, and by its ruling #16, adopted the same day, in conformity with Article 15 of the Electoral Code the CEC established 110 electoral districts for elections of deputies to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the fourth convocation (lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament).
The electoral districts must consist of approximately the same number of electors. According to the law, the divergence in numbers per circuit cannot exceed 10%.
However, in some of the electoral districts which were formed by the Central Electoral Commission the divergence is more than 10%. In particular, Baranavichy village electoral district #7, Luninets electoral district #13, Iuye electoral district #53 and Shchuchyn electoral district #60 lack more than 10% of electors to meet the average number, whereas Mazyr electoral district #42 exceeds this number by more than 10%. Thus, the difference between the number of electors between the smallest electoral district and the largest ones is 32%.
As a result of such difference the electors may not have equal possibilities to receive information during the agitation campaign, because according to the law all candidates receive from the state budget an equal sum of money for production of printing of agitation materials.
According to Article 35 of the Electoral Code, at 5 p.m. on 11 July the state agencies stopped accepting the documents for nomination of representatives to district electoral commissions. It’s worth noting that the appropriate departments of the six oblast executive committees and Minsk city executive committee accepted the documents for nomination of representatives of district electoral commission without any noticeable problems.
At the same time, the general public and political atmosphere in which the electoral campaign has started causes a great concern of observers.
At the moment when this text was written, more than 12 persons were detained within the frames of a criminal case which was brought on the fact of a blast which had taken place in the morning of 4 July 2008, at the official celebration of the Independence Day and brought about 50 victims who received different kinds of injuries. In their commentaries the state media directly accuse the opposition of the crime, thus trying to create a hostile image of the political opponents in the eyes of the Belarusian society.
There’s also administrative persecution of representatives of the electoral process. In particular, the United Civil Party nominated its member Mikhail Pashkevich an observer to the Central Electoral Commission. Shortly after this Pashkevich was detained and sentenced to 10 days of jail for ‘petty hooliganism’. The same sentenced was given to the participant of election monitoring, member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) Eduard Balanchuk. Human rights activists are pressurized by tax inspections. The BHC head Aleh Hulak, the well-known human rights activists Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich and their families received the requirements of tax agencies to present income declarations. Thus, such persecution directly concerns participants of monitoring of the electoral campaign.
The state media continue the campaign on discrediting certain opposition activists and oppositional political parties in general. The state TV regularly broadcasts programs which are aimed at forming a negative public image of oppositional representatives, declaring them an internal enemy, etc. Meanwhile, representatives of oppositional forces are deprived of access to state media, first of all electronic ones. Therefore they have no possibility to argue against the false accusations or disprove them. This situation let’s us state that the state media already conduct a campaign on agitation against opposition and its representatives.
The atmosphere of fear predominates in the society. Representatives of democratic organizations are pressurized and harassed. Belarus still has political prisoners. This information hardly favors holding free and fair elections which can manifest the real will of the Belarusian society.
Another cause for concern is also direct pressurization of certain individuals for intention to run at the parliamentary elections. In particular, Alexander Mekh, activist of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) Party from the town of Kobryn, was fired from Kobryn branch of the Beltranshaz gas main. The administration of the enterprise did not extend the working contract to him. The activist’s wife was threatened with expulsion as well. Leanid Autukhou, BPF member from the town of Horki, who also intends to run at the elections, was fired from an enterprise of housing economy, due to the expiry of the working contract. In both cases the fired persons were told that their working contracts were not extended because of their wish to participate in the elections. Sviatlana Panamarova had to refuse from participation in the elections as a candidate from the United Democratic Forces because of dismissal threats at work.
Human rights activists will continue their work on monitoring of the electoral campaign.
Human rights activists for free elections