Week of elections: events and generalizations
The main event this week was that the Central electoral commission and the Supreme Court ended considering the complaints of the persons who had not been registered as candidates for the parliament. Pitifully enough, the situation with non-alternative election at 12 electoral constituencies remains the same even after consideration of the complaints.
The election can become non-alternative even in more constituencies if the opposition decides to revoke its candidates. Another factor that can increase the number of constituencies with one candidate is the agitation campaign – from the experience of previous electoral campaigns we know that many candidates are excluded from the electoral race at this stage for real or fabricated violations of the electoral legislation.
The state media paid little attention to the electoral campaign, the main ‘actors’ being not the candidates, but the organizers of the parliamentary elections. 5-minute TV and radio speeches by candidates about their programs are far from being enough, which was confessed even by the Central electoral commission, which ordered to repeat them once again. The absence of public discussions and debates concerning political platforms created the impression of ‘invisibility’ of the parliamentary elections for the society. In addition, the local authorities determined very few places for placement of agitation materials.
There’s no use speaking about equality candidates during the agitation campaign. Pro-governmental candidates were allowed to meet with the working collectives of state enterprises and institutions in the working time. Workers of executive committees, heads of organizations, enterprises and educational establishments called to vote for them. State mass media dedicated to them numerous articles. At the same time, independent and democratic candidates were not permitted to organize electoral meetings, their agitation production was printed with delay and in some cases sound was cut off during the broadcast of their speeches on TV.
National and international observers continued their work. The national ones are mostly concentrated on registration of violations of the electoral legislation and appealing against them.
Welcome to the desert of reality: election without choice
The Central electoral commission and the Supreme Court finished considering the complaints of the people who had not been registered as candidates. 52 complaints were filed to the Central electoral commission and eight of them were satisfied. As a result eight candidates were registered. The Supreme Court received 19 complaints against the rulings of the Central electoral commission. Later one complaint was revoked. The court considered the remaining 18 complaints. As a result, two more candidates were registered.
As of 12 September, 279 candidates for deputies participate in the electoral race. However, judging by the practice of the last campaign on elections to the Chamber of Representatives, it is too early to say that all of them will reach the finish. Bear in mind, during election 2004 only 346 out of 406 registered candidates were left by the Election Day, as 60 (!) candidates were deprived of registration or refused from struggle for a seat in the parliament. Moreover, seven of them were deprived of registration as candidates during the five days of early voting.
To be or not to be? That is the question
This week the member parties of the United democratic forces voiced their vision of the future participation in the electoral campaign. All UDF stated that most probably they would continue participation in the elections. A final decision will be taken at the council of the United democratic forces on 21 September.
At the same time, one of the parties, namely the Belarusian Popular Front, states that in the case an earlier decision of the party will not be reversed, by 23 September it will revoke all its candidates and thus will join the boycott of the elections.
Bear in mind that in Homel oblast three candidates of the United democratic forces (two representatives of the United Civil Party and one representative of the Belarusian Popular Front) refused from participation in the elections and started a campaign on boycott at their constituencies.
Thus, the number of constituencies with non-alternative elections will be known later. At present all candidates are trying to present themselves and their programs to the electorate. The agitation campaign continues.
Unequal ‘attention’ from the side of mass media
The state mass media continue a purposeful agitation for pro-governmental candidates and completely ignore independent and democratic ones. Articles about ‘official’ candidates are regularly published by state press in all regions of Belarus. For instance, during the agitation campaign the newspapers of Svetlahorsk region (Ranak-plius, Svetlahorskiya Naviny), the TV channels Ranak and Lad proposed to the electorate a number of materials with agitation for candidate Valiantsina Karaliova, but no information was given about her rival Siarhei Daineka.
A state newspaper Peramoha actively advertises a candidate Mikhail Orda, who is running at Dziatlava electoral constituency #55. In the front page of its issue for 3 September it was written that he had visited a number of schools at the festive actions marking the beginning of the curriculum year and even passed a set of athletic trainers to the secondary school in Navayelnia. He also promised to buy skates and hockey uniform for the school’s hockey team. Of course, there is no information about Yanina Huzouskaya in the local press.
Even 5-minute speeches are not shown without problems
According to the legislation candidates for deputies have the right to five-minute appearance on the radio and on TV free of charge. This week they were using this opportunity. Some of them refused from it, whereas some others have problems during recording and broadcasting of the speeches.
On 5 September, at 5.30-6.30 pm the speech of a candidate from the Party of Communists Belarusian Yanina Huzouskaya was to have been broadcast on the Lad TV channel. Instead, at this time there was shown the news of Brest TV studio. Thus, the electors of Dziatlava and other settlements were deprived of the opportunity to familiarize with the candidate. Mikhail Orda, the pro-governmental candidate running at the same constituency, refused from speaking on TV.
At 6.00 - 6.15 pm Vitsebsk oblast TV broadcasted on the Lad TV channel the speeches of candidates who are running at Vitsebsk-Chyhunachnaya electoral district #19. The electoral speech of a pro-governmental candidate Siarhei Siamashka was shown without any problems. The next speech was by his rival Andrei Levinau. During the passage in which he called the electors not to vote early to prevent falsification of the results of the elections, the sound… disappeared. But the third speech was broadcasted without any problems.
Obstacles in printing of electoral programs and agitation materials
At first, six candidates of the United Civil Party were prohibited to publish their materials in a special issue of a non-state newspaper Narodnaya Volia. The formal reason was that the newspaper is printed in Russia, not in Belarus (all Belarusian printing houses refuse to print it in order to avoid problems). The candidates managed to find a printing house that agreed to publish this very issue of Narodnaya Volia. When the administration of the printing house addressed the Central electoral commission on this question, they were ordered not to print the newspaper. Then the printing house refused to the UCP candidates, referring to ‘technical complications’.
The editorial board of the regional state newspaper Vecherniy Brest advised the candidate for deputy at Brest Eastern electoral constituency #1 Anatol Liaukovich to replace the following paragraph in his program, or put it in line with the requirements of Article #47 of the Electoral Code: ‘What do the authorities do? They deprive five millions of children, students, veterans and disabled of social guarantees. I ask my rival A.Vialichka: whose will he implemented while voting for the repeal of social benefits to Belarusian citizens? Did he ask his electors? And today he dares to run for another term! I don’t know what to say!...’ The editorial office of the newspaper is of the opinion that this passage contains defamation and is to be replaced. The editorial board said they would not publish the articles otherwise.
Agitation is permitted… for certain persons only
The district executive committees of Horki and Mstsislau continue agitation for the pro-governmental candidates for parliament T.Asmalouskaya and A.Karayed. There have been established special ‘agitation brigades’ from workers of these state agencies. These brigades spend their working time on agitation visits to organizations and institutions of Horki and Mstsislau and the villages of Horki and Mstsislau districts. This work is coordinated by the ideological departments which choose workers of other departments of the executive committees for the agitation groups.
At the same time, in some regions there continue the hounding of those who agitate for independent candidates. In particular, in Sianno, during distribution of the newspaper Tovarishch and agitation for its chief editor Siarhei Vazniak (candidate at Sianno electoral constituency #30) policemen with machine guns detained a journalist Mikalai Petrushenka. He was released from the police station only after showing his journalist ID.
Electoral meetings are permitted… but to ‘approved’ candidates
Independent and oppositional candidates are often refused in organization of electoral meetings, whereas pro-governmental candidates are welcomed in this respect. Such situation is observed in Polatsk, Vitsebsk, Hrodna, etc.
A pro-governmental candidate, officer of Vitsebsk oblast executive committee Piatro Yuzhyk has no problems receiving the agreements of the heads of Polatsk institutions and enterprises to organization of his electoral meetings. He has already had such meetings with the working collectives of the local beer and vine factories, Shklovalakno plant, the town clinic and hospital and the workers of the local housing economy. In some of the working collectives such meetings were conducted in the working time (which is prohibited by the Electoral Code). The people were obliged to come to them. Moreover, in some cases they had to listen to Yuzhyk during their dinner breaks.
When Yuzhyk’s rival, oppositional candidate Albert Markau, found out about it and came to one of such meetings, the guards of the factory where an electoral meeting was taking place did not let him in. That’s why Markau conducts his electoral campaign by paying visits to people’s apartments. This is the only way how he can familiarize them with his program.
Double standards also exist in Vitsebsk, where constituency electoral commission #19 found legal the decision of the administration of Chyhunachny district police department of Vitsebsk to refuse Andrei Levinau in holding an electoral meeting with workers of this institution.
The constituency electoral commission also upheld the refusal of the administration of secondary school #2 to facilitate a meeting of Andrei Levinau with the parents who came to the school for a parents’ assembly. On the other hand, on 3 September Levinau’s rival, pro-governmental candidate Siarhei Siamashka, had an electoral meeting at gymnasium #4, but Levinau was not allowed to speak there, though he came to this meeting.
In Hrodna an independent candidate at Hrodna-Zaniomanskaya electoral constituency #49 Siarhei Kuzmianok was not allowed to speak before the electors in school #34, where a pro-governmental candidate Alexander Antonenka was holding an electoral meeting.
There are not enough places for agitation materials, or… there are no places at all
The local administrations determined very few places for placement of agitation materials. Placement of agitation materials in all other places is declared illegal and can serve as a ground for deprival of registration.
For instance, the electoral commission of Homel-Tsentralnaya constituency #33 determined only two places for electoral meetings: the sitting hall of the Scientific-methodical center of Homel oblast association of trade unions and the hall of housing economy #27 in the suburb Kliankouski, which is far from being enough for a city with population of 500 000 people.
In Babruisk the only places authorized for electoral meetings are the halls in Piashchany Alley and in Anharskaya Street, and a room in the Center of hygiene and epidemiology (one hall per electoral constituency). The location of all these places is not very convenient for the electors. Informational materials can be placed at precincts and at housing economies. It is also permitted to hold electoral meetings and enterprises, providing the administrations agree to it.
Liakhavichy district executive committee ruled to allow placement of agitation materials on the news stands and shop windows. It is permitted to meet with candidates at the Culture Houses of Liakhavichy and of the district agro-service, at the Kolas stadium and in village clubs. However, not all villages have such clubs and their dwellers will hardly come to Liakhavichy for an electoral meeting.
The ruling of Horki district committee determining the places where it was permitted to put agitation materials was not submitted to the officials of the organizations and institutions where such places are situated. For instance, several days ago the acting rector or Belarus State Agricultural Academy Valery Siarheyeu ordered to remove agitation posters of candidate Andrei Yurkou from the advertisement boards of the academy. When the candidate asked for explanations, he found that the rector knew nothing about the ruling of the executive committee.
Warnings to candidates
The electoral commission of Horki constituency #81 issued a warning to Yurkou after his adherents had posted several agitation posters in Mstsislau and Horki, which they did because the ruling of Horki district committee determining the places where it was permitted to put agitation materials was not submitted to the officials of the organizations and institutions where such places are situated.
12 September a warning was also issued to a member of the United Civil Party Stanislau Bahdankevich who is running at Chkalauskaya constituency #96 in Minsk. The warning was issued for a leaflet with a message of the United democratic forces on one side and the emblem of the United democratic forces, a photo of Bahdankevich and several words about him on the other.
Earlier the officials of the Central electoral commission explained that in the case a leaflet that was distributed before a politician’s registration as a candidate did not contain information about him/her as a candidate or calls to vote for him/her at the election, it could not be considered as early agitation. Bahdankevich’s leaflet did not contain anything of the kind. Similar leaflets with photos of other UCP members were distributed as well, but none of them have received any warnings so far.
Cross out electors to increase the poll
In Minsk and Babruisk members of precinct electoral commissions were ordered to cross out as many electors as they could while checking the lists of electors. That’s how the local administrations hope to increase the poll. In particular, an oral order of such a kind was given to Minsk precinct commission #161, established at the Territorial center of social serving in Leninski district of Minsk. The commission members were ordered to cross out as many electors as they could while paying visits to the electors’ apartments. They were told to cross out those who weren’t at home, those who did not intend to vote, those who did not open the door and even some of those who said they would vote.
…and all this is monitored by observers
All in all, 616 national and 205 international observers have received official accreditation. Formally international observers represent five organizations: the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, the Inter-parliamentary assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community and the BDIHR OSCE. Among the observers there are representatives of 27 states. Requests for accreditation of 522 international observers are being considered by the Central electoral commission.