Analysis: Formation of district election commissions

2008 2008-07-29T11:45:34+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Formation of district election commissions for holding elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus

Legal regulations

 

According to Article 28 of the Election Code, the parliamentary elections are prepared by district and local election commissions.

 

District election commissions to the Chamber of Representatives are created by presidiums of oblast and Minsk city Councils and by oblast and Minsk city executive committees no later than 75 days before elections, and are composed of 9-13 members.

 

Joint decisions of a presidium of the corresponding local Council and executive committee are made by the majority of votes. No less than two thirds of members of a presidium of a local Council and local executive committees are to attend the joint sessions where such decisions are to be made.

 

Decisions about formation of election commissions indicating their membership, location, and telephone numbers are to be published within 7 days, or reported to citizens (voters) in some other way.

 

According to Article 35 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, political parties, non-governmental organizations, working bodies of organizations or their structural divisions, as well as citizens by application can nominate only one representative to an appropriate district election commission.

 

The following bodies are entitled to nominate representatives to election commissions:

 

governing bodies of political parties and other national-level non-governmental organizations -- to district election commissions.

 

Political parties are to nominate their representatives at sessions of their governing bodies.

 

Meetings (conferences) of working bodies of organizations which are located on the territory of a rayon, city, city district, town, village council and have no less than 30 members, -- have the right to nominate a representative to appropriate district election commissions.

 

100 citizens living in a district have the right to nominate their representative to a district election commission by application.

 

If working bodies of structural units of organizations nominate representatives to commissions, the working body of the whole organization should not do the nomination. A meeting is authorized if more than half of members of a working body participate in it. Conferences of working bodies are organized if it is difficult to gather a meeting because of a big number of workers, multiple shifts, or various locations of structural departments. A conference is authorized if no less than two thirds of delegates, elected by a procedure set up by a working body, participate in it. Meetings (conferences) make decisions by the majority of votes of the participants.

 

Voters also have the right to nominate their representative to a district election commission by application. Application for nomination of a representative to a district election commission must be signed by at least 100 citizens who live in that election district.

 

It’s worth mentioning that district election commissions play the main role in organizing and holding elections to the Chamber of Representatives. It is the district election commissions that organize and hold elections in a corresponding election district. District election commissions are also responsible for:

 

  • Registration of initiative groups for collecting signatures in support of individuals who are proposed as candidates and for campaigning for these candidates;
  • Registration of candidates and their agents;
  • Control over campaigning procedure;
  • Securing production of election ballot papers and supplying them to precinct election commissions;
  • Ascertainment of election results in a district and publishing the results;
  • Consideration of complaints and statements about activity of precinct election commissions and making decisions on the subject matter.

 

District election commissions also have power to give warnings to candidates if they violate the election legislation, and cancel their registration.

 

 

Nomination and formation of district election commissions

 

According to the Calendar Plan for holding the election to the Chamber of Representatives, adopted by the Ruling of the Central Commission for holding elections and national referendums (Central Election Commission, or CEC), nomination of representatives to district election commissions was to start on June 26th, 2008 and end no later than July 11th, 2008, inclusive.

Taking into account the exclusive role of district election commissions in organizing the parliamentary election, the issue of forming the district election commissions raised a big discussion.

 

The political parties which are members of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) coalition, created a unified list of their representatives nominated to district election commissions. The list was adopted by the Political Council of the UDF on June 8th, 2008. The list was formed according to the following criteria: experience of work in state structures, public and political status, job, and education. The list consisted of 110 people, and had such well-known public and political figures as Stanislau Shushkevich, Mechyslau Hryb, Alexander Sasnou, Paval Kazlouski, Leu Marholin, and others.

 

The Political Council of the UDF claimed the international community would base the decision if to recognize the parliamentary elections on the issue of inclusion or non-inclusion of candidates from the UDF list in district commissions. UCP leader Anatol Liabedzka stated, in case the UDF representatives are not included in district election commissions, the UDF would consider withdrawing candidates and boycotting the election.

 

In her turn, CEC chair Lidziya Yarmoshyna stated, the wishes of the United Democratic Forces about including their representatives in district commissions would possibly be taken into account. According to Yarmoshyna, “Lukashenka was positive about including members of political parties into district election commissions. It should be considered however whether these persons have work experience and other accomplishments, including political maturity”.

 

The leadership of the recently created non-governmental organization Belaya Rus nominated their representatives to district election commissions as well. According to its deputy chairman Alexander Shadzko, Belaya Rus nominated 110 representatives to district election commissions.

 

Joint sessions of Presidiums of oblast executive committees and oblast Councils, and Minsk city executive committee and Minsk city Council took place on July 14th, 2008.

 

Formation of district election commissions was on the agenda. Those bodies of local self-governance created 110 district election commissions. Entities which are entitled by the law to nominate representatives to district election commissions (citizens, working bodies, non-governmental organizations, and political parties) nominated the total of 1853 candidates to commissions. It’s worth mentioning, the maximal number of district commission members is 1430 persons.

 

According to secretary of the Central Election Commission Mikalai Lazavik, 1853 representatives were nominated to district election commissions. “Among the nominees citizens’ representatives are on the leading position – 39.5%, representatives of non-governmental organizations come second (25.5%), and representatives of political parties (20%) and working bodies (14.7%) come last”, -- CEC secretary Lazavik reported.

 

He pointed out, “the political parties which position themselves as parties in opposition” nominated 118 people to district election commissions (31.9% of all representatives nominated by political parties). “Another 18 individuals were nominated by BPF Adradzhennie NGO. This is 3.8 % of all representatives nominated by non-governmental organizations”, M. Lazavik said.

 

This way, the United Democratic Forces nominated the total of 136 people.

 

According to Lazavik, the biggest number of political party representatives was nominated by the Communist Party of Belarus – 91 (24.5% of all partisan nominees) and by Belarusian Agrarian Party – 62 (16.7%). The United Civic party nominated 50 people (13.5%), and BPF Party nominated 34 (9.2%).

 

Among the non-governmental organizations, 109 (23.2%) representatives were nominated by Belarusian republican Youth Union (BRSM); Belaya Rus nominated 94 representatives (19.4%), and the Belarusian Veterans’ Association nominated 71 representatives (15.2%).

 

CEC secretary Mikalai Lazavik pointed out, there would be “certain competition, or contest” when forming the commissions.

 

Just as during previous elections, the nominees to district election commissions were not invited to the joint sessions of oblast executive committees and oblast Councils, and were not informed about the results of the sessions. Members of district election commissions were only approved formally during the sessions. There was no discussion of nominees’ candidacies. That circumstance demonstrates that the lists of district election commissions have been formed in advance. No “contest” or “competition” between the nominees the CEC secretary was speaking about could be observed. Just as during the previous elections, the criteria used by oblast executive committees and oblast Councils when forming election commissions remained unclear.

 

In some oblasts, representatives of the public and mass media were denied attendance to the sessions of oblast executive committees and oblast Councils. For instance, Leanid Markhotka, member of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, was not allowed to attend the session of Minsk oblast executive committee and oblast Council without any grounds. BHC member Uladzimir Osipchyk was not allowed to be present during the session of Minsk city executive committee and Minsk city Council. The similar situation was registered in Vitebsk oblast, where BHC representatives Vasil Berasneu and Vadzim Barshcheuski, and representative of an independent mass medium Petrushenka were not allowed to attend the joint session of Vitebsk oblast executive committee and oblast Council.

 

Besides that, representatives of political parties UCP, BPF, and PCB, nominated to district election commissions of Minsk city and Minsk oblast, were denied information about formation of the election commissions.

 

Representatives of BHC and other entities were also denied information about the results of the sessions in Hrodna region.

 

However, it is worth mentioning, in other oblasts representatives of the public and mass media were allowed to attend the sessions. For instance, observers and journalists could attend the session of Brest oblast executive committee and oblast Council.

 

Observers and journalists were allowed to attend the session of Brest oblast executive committee and oblast Council on formation of district commissions on July 14th. They believe, decisions about membership in commissions have been made before the session, i.e. the session was a mere formality. It lasted no longer than 25 minutes. The session participants received general information, including the facts that the “competition” to Brest-Centralnaya district commission # 2 was 1.7 people per seat, and to Mukhavets district # 4 – 1.5 people per seat. Head of Brest oblast executive committee K. Sumar claimed, every commission was created basing on the principle of considering the maximal number of applications, and in its maximal size of 13 people. “We made a decision to nominate representatives of all non-governmental organizations and political parties without exclusion to the commissions”, K. Sumar said. The session participants voted unanimously. When S. Vakulenka, nominated by signature collection, asked about the selection criteria, he was told those were the criteria of maximal compatibility and informed about limited number of seats in commissions. No one attending the session could find out how the candidatures were discussed and when the final decision was made. All questions received such answers as: “not enough seats”, “he was the first to apply”, “they are more experienced”, or “to make the work of the commission possible”. The results were reported in a fast and unclear way. The requests to give more specific or repeat information about the approved commission members were answered with “you’ll see that in the press”.

 

 

 

One could observe interesting circumstances during registration of candidates to district election commissions nominated by pro-democratic political parties. No matter what day and time the nomination applications were submitted, practically all UDF candidates to the commissions were registered under the same number – 17. That made observers suspect that the local authorities had approved the commission members’ lists in advance, and the election commissions had already been formed. According to preliminary information, the session on formation of district election commissions was to be held in the building of oblast executive committee at 10 a.m. The officials refused to provide information about inclusion or non-inclusion of UDF nominees to district election commissions. Human rights activists, journalists, members of political parties and democratic nominees to the commissions made numerous phone calls to Hrodna oblast executive committee to find about results of the sitting. However, its representative Leanid Yermantovich refused from giving comments and said that everything would be published in the local press. Meanwhile, the nearest issue of the state edition, Hrodzenskaya Prauda, will come out only on Wednesday, July 16th.

None of election monitors managed to attend meetings of work collectives for nomination of committee members or receive information about the time and place of such meetings from officials of executive committees and Councils in Mahiliou oblast. None of the officials who were supposed to know about such meetings were able to provide such information to our monitors.

 

The monitoring participants failed to find out information about the total number of people nominated to majority of election commissions in Mahiliou region. Representatives of the oblast executive committee try to conceal the information. In some cases, they directly refuse to provide information.

Monitors dispute nomination of I. R. Navitski, deputy director for ideology of Belaruskabel public corporation, by work collective to district election commission #42. None of the interviewed employees of the company remember about any meeting or conference nominating Navitski to the commission. If suspicions find any proof, monitors will apply to prosecutor’s office requesting to check the lawfulness of his nomination.

 

Denial of access to citizens delegated by non-governmental organizations to sessions of oblast executive committees and oblast Councils and refusal to provide information about composition of district election commissions certainly violates the principle of openness in the election. According to Article 13 of the Election Code, preparation and holding of the election to the Chamber of Representatives is to be done openly and publicly.

 

Election commissions, local representative, executive, and administrative bodies are to inform citizens about the course of their work of preparing and holding an election, and about commissions’ members, location and hours of work.

 

Monitors point out continuing tendency of nominating heads of state-run organizations and institutions, and representatives of local executive power structures through signature collection: S. V. Puzikau (staff member of ideology department) was nominated to Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya district # 5; V. H. Svinko (deputy commander of a military unit) was nominated to election commission of Brest-Uskhodniaya district # 3, etc. The bodies that create commissions refused to present applications with signature sheets to observers. That leads to conclusions that administrative resources were used for nominating such candidates through signature collection. Indirectly it is affirmed by significant representation of members nominated by signature collection in rural district commissions. For example, in Baranavichy rural district commission # 7, seven members (54%) are nominated by signature collection. Among them there are: A. K. Kuntsevich (head of organizational and personnel department of Liakhavichy rayon executive committee), L. V. Kaubasa (head of ideological department of Liakhavichy rayon executive committee), and M. I. Burak (head of the social security fund of Liakhavichy rayon). Four people (31%) were nominated by signature collection to Ivatsevichy commission # 11. Among them there are: M. V. Pishch (head of Hantsavichy rayon communications center, head of rayon Belaya Rus organization), A. K. Syzrantsau (head of inspectorate for protection of nature of Hantsavichy rayon, head of the pro-presidential organization “Tsitadel”), and T. P. Kuis (director of the procurement station).

 

In a number of cases nomination by work collectives can also be considered as usage of the administrative resources. For example, the following people were nominated by work collectives: T. V. Latyshava (head of the department for labor, employment and social security of Baranavichy city executive committee) became head of Baranavichy-Uskhodniaya district commission # 6; V. M. Hrytsuk (head of Brest rayon education department) and A. M. Pasevich (director of Pruzhany marketing office) became chair and deputy chair of Belavezha district election commission # 3. Work collectives also nominated M. K. Tabalevich (director of KPVS state company) to Brest-Zakhodniaya district commission # 1, and L. I. Pleskatsevich (director of Ivatsevichy “Prambudenergo” state company) – to Ivatsevichy district election commission # 11.

 

Monitors point out, representatives of pro-governmental structures were nominated to commissions by various means, stipulated by the election legislation.

 

Thus, L. M. Zhybul (Staubtsy election district # 77) was nominated by BRSM, Belaya Rus, and by citizens through signature collection; V. F Karvatka (Pukhavichy election district # 73) – by Belarusian Union of Officers and Belarusian Veterans’ Association. It is possible that the goal of multiple nominations was to manipulate statistical data about the number of NGO representatives nominated to and included in the commissions. At the same time, only one representative of pro-democratic NGOs in Minsk oblast (member of BPF Adradzennie) became member of a district election commission.

 

In some regions monitors report about creation of structures for holding elections which are not stipulated by the election legislation. For example, during its first session Zhodzina district election commission # 66 elected A. S. Puhach (chair of Zhodzina city Council) commission chairman. In his speech he pointed out: “Simultaneously with district election commissions, the city headquarters for holding elections were created. We are going to work together with them in order to hold elections in due order”.

 

Results of forming district election commissions

 

According to our information, representatives of the following political parties became members of district election commission:

 

Table of representation of political parties at district electoral commissions during the elections to the Chamber of Representatives in 2008

 

BPF Party/ Belarusian
Popular Front
‘Adradzhenne’ NGO

The United
Civil Party

The Party of Communists
of Belarus

The Belarusian
Social Democratic
Party ‘Hramada’

The Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada

The total number o f nominated candidates

 

51

 

50

 

18

 

15

 

2

The city of Minsk

2

1

4

1

-

Minsk oblast

2

3

2

2

0

Vitebsk oblast

1

1

2

2

0

Homel oblast

0

9

3

0

0

Hrodna oblast

-

1

-

-

-

Brest oblast

2

2

1

1

0

Mahiliou oblast

1

0

1

0

0

 

 

Conclusions:

Forming of district election commissions was a formality: candidates nominated to commissions were not discussed and not invited to the sessions, they were not informed about the results of consideration of their candidacies.

 

Just as with previous elections, the selection criteria remained unclear. Absence of clearly formulated criteria allows the local government bodies (oblast executive committees and oblast Councils) to create election commission on the basis of controllability principle.

 

It should be noted, the citizens who were denied membership in district election commissions, were deprived of the opportunity to appeal to courts against the decision of the bodies which created the commissions. According to Article 122 part 4 of the Constitution decisions of the local government bodies can be appealed against judicially. However, in practice courts refuse to entertain such actions.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations, pro-democratic political parties and mass media were not allowed to attend joint sessions of oblast executive committees and oblast Councils in the majority of cases (in 4 oblasts out of 6). This way, the practice of forming of district electoral commissions remains the same, it is conducted in a non-transparent way and without public representation.

 

In a number of cases representatives of oblast executive committees refused to provide information to monitors and failed to present copies of the minutes from the meetings of work collectives nominating their representatives to district election commissions.

 

 

The number of representatives of pro-democratic parties and NGOs in district election commissions grew a little, in comparison with the previous election, which can be noted as a positive sign. During the previous parliamentary election in 2004, 22 representatives of political parties and non-governmental organizations in opposition became members of district election commissions. This year, 38 representatives of the UDF became members, making up 32% of all UDF nominees (118 people), and 2.2 % of all commission members.

 

Table of representation of political parties at district electoral commissions during the elections to the Chamber of Representatives in 2004

 

BPF Party

The United
Civil Party

The Party of Communists
of Belarus

The Belarusian
Social Democratic
Party ‘Narodnaya
Hramada’

The Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada

Belarusian Labor Party

The total number o f nominated candidates

 

50

 

61

 

78

 

80

 

23

 

26

The city of Minsk

1

0

4

0

0

0

Minsk oblast

0

0

0

0

0

0

Vitebsk oblast

0

0

6

0

0

0

Homel oblast

0

0

5

0

0

0

Hrodna oblast

0

0

0

0

0

0

Brest oblast

1

0

4

1

0

0

Mahiliou oblast

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

 

The political parties which are members of the Unified Democratic Forces proposed to include one UDF representative in each district election commission. They created a list of 110 candidates to election commissions. The political parties considered that a minimal condition for democratization of the election process. However, the authorities failed to fulfill it.

 

District election commissions were created without broad representation of all entities of the election process.

 

Just as during the previous election to the Chamber of Representatives, the majority of members of district election commissions are members of pro-governmental political parties and NGOs (CPB, Belaya Rus, and BRSM), representatives of the bodies which created the commissions, and members of work collectives. At the same time, in the majority of cases it were representatives of the local government bodies and heads of state-owned companies and institutions who became chairs, deputy chairs, and secretaries of district election commissions.

 

Monitors register facts of creation “headquarters” and “working groups” for holding elections, created by the local authorities. It’s worth mentioning that the election legislation does not stipulate for creation of such bodies and does not describe their power and competence. Monitors are concerned about creation of such bodies as they might be used by the local authorities for exercising extra control over the elections.

 

This way, the procedure of forming district election commissions remained unchanged. The authorities failed to demonstrate changes in their approach to forming commissions. District election commissions do not represent the broad circles of the population and all participants of the election process. Representation of opposition political parties in district election commissions still depends on the will of the local authorities, and the procedure of forming the commissions is not transparent for the civic society.

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