Electoral marathon: numbers and tendencies of the week
Elections to local Soviets of deputies of the Republic of Belarus of the 26th Convocation were appointed on 25 April 2010 by Presidential Decree #10 on 18 January 2010. Bear in mind that it is not the first electoral campaign carried out under the electoral legislation containing new amendments that were introduced on the eve on the campaign.
As soon as the decree was published, human rights defenders throughout the country started their activities on monitoring the electoral process in the country within the framework of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign. One of the aims of the monitoring is analysis of the practical implementation of new provisions of the electoral legislation.
Nomination to territorial election commissions
The main event of the last week of the electoral campaign was the forming of territorial election commissions. According to the schedule adopted by the Central Election Commission, the state of nomination of commission candidates lasted till 26 January, and the commissions were formed till 29 January. A total of 1 495 commissions were formed, including 6 oblast commissions, 1 Minsk city commission, 118 district commissions, 12 city commissions in the cities of oblast subordination, 14 city commissions in the cities of district subordination, 56 settlement commissions and 1 288 village commissions.
Nomination of representatives to territorial election commissions was conducted in three ways: by political parties and NGOs, by working collectives and by collection of citizens’ signatures. A total of 13 106 representatives were nominated for participation in election commissions.
Political parties nominated less than 1.1% of the total number of candidates – 149 persons. More than a half of them (82 persons) represent the pro-governmental Communist Party of Belarus, 21 persons – the Belarusian United Leftist Party Fair World (former Party of Communists Belarusian), 14 persons – the United Civil Party, 8 persons- the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, 6 persons - the Belarusian Popular Front Party and 1 person – the Belarusian Social Sportive Party.
Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, stated in an interview with BelTA about low activity of political structures and their reluctance to really exercise the rights granted to them by changes in the electoral legislation. However, he said nothing about the real conditions for political parties: not a single political party has been registered with the state since 2003. During 2009 the Ministry of Justice denied registration to three parties: the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (twice), the Belarusian Party of Workers (successor of the Belarusian Labor Party, which was dissolved in 2004) and the Party of Freedom and Progress (the fourth registration denial since 2004). Thus, these parties were deprived of the real opportunity to nominate their representatives to territorial commissions by nominating them from party structures. As a result, members of the party had to choose another method of nomination – by collecting people’s signatures in support of their inclusion in the election commissions. For instance, the BCD nominated 43 representatives this way. We also need to take into account the absence of legally registered party structures in the Belarusian regions, partially resulting from such legal requirements as having a legal address placed in non-living premises. We shouldn’t also forget about the real practice of the previous electoral campaigns (when none of nominees of opposition parties and NGOs were included in election commission) and dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments of political activists in the regions of Belarus.
According to the official information, civil associations of Belarus demonstrated a much greater activity in nominating members to election commissions. They nominated 4 151 representatives (31.7% out of the total number of candidates for participation in the election commissions). Here we should again go into detail on the situation of NGOs in Belarus. Of course, those established and/or financed by state agencies nominated a great number of representatives to election commissions, having no doubts that their representatives would be included in the election commissions. The situation of disloyal NGOs is not that optimistic because of politically motivated dissolutions of such organizations by the state and refusals of the state authorities to give the state registration to new ones. In particular, the Human Rights Center Viasna was thrice denied state registration three times, two of them in 2009.
The majority of applications for participation in election commission were received from citizens who collected signatures – 7 216 (more than 55%). Bear in mind that many of them are representatives of political parties and civil associations who used this way of nomination because of lack of other legal possibilities.
1 590 applications (12%) were received from working collectives. It’s worth noting that working collectives as subjects of political life are a remnant of the Soviet epoch that survived only in Belarus. Independent experts in the sphere of electoral legislation have many times stated about the necessity of reviewing the legal provisions allowing participation of working collectives in the electoral process.
Who is worthy to work in election commissions?
According to the law, the oblast commissions and the Minsk city election commission are established by Presidiums of the oblast Soviets of deputies and the Minsk Soviet of deputies and the oblast executive committees and Minsk executive committee. District election commissions and the territorial election commissions in cities of oblast subordination are established by the Presidiums of the district Soviets of deputies and executive committees and the Soviets of deputies and executive committees in the appropriate cities. The town election commissions (in towns of district subordination), settlement and village territorial election commissions are established by town, settlement and village executive committees and Soviets of deputies. All necessary sittings were conducted within the legally provided period of time and all commissions were formed (neither the official sources, nor participants of the monitoring campaign possess any information witnessing the contrary).
According to the novelties in the Electoral Code, political parties and civil associations are guaranteed not less than 1/3rd places in the territorial commissions. This aspect was especially attentively watched by participants of the monitoring of this stage of the electoral campaign. A special attention was paid to the extent to which the opposition parties could use these legal guarantees.
Representatives of opposition parties were included in three out of six oblast commissions (Brest, Vitsebsk and Hrodna). However, the pro-governmental Liberal Democratic Party and Communist Party of Belarus have the largest representation and have representatives in each of oblast commissions. None of the democratic activists nominated to the oblast commissions by collecting signatures were included in them. The civil associations whose members are represented in oblast commissions are: Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM), Belaya Rus, organizations of veterans, Belarusian Union of Women and other organizations loyal to the state and supported by it.
Opposition nominated three persons to the Brest oblast election commission: one of them was nominated by the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, one – from the Belarusian Popular Front Party (BPF) and one – from the Belarusian United Leftist Party Fair World. Only one of them, representative of BSDP Hramada Pavel Korneu, was included in the commission, which also includes members of the Communist Party of Belarus, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice.
A representative of Fair World was included in the Vitsebsk oblast commission, whereas representatives of the BPF and the United Civil Party were not. No place was found for the former political prisoner Siarhei Parsiukevich and the political leader Pavel Seviarynets both of whom were nominated by collecting signatures.
Democratic activists proposed to the Homel oblast election commission the candidacies of the UCP member Sviatlana Hahaldze and Maryia Tulzhankova, who was nominated by collecting signatures. Neither of them was included in the commission, though representatives of the LDP and the CPB were.
UCP representative Viktar Kakareka was included in the Hrodna oblast election commission. A total of 40 applications for membership in the commission were filed, half of them by the democratic opposition: 1 from the BPF Party, 1 from the BSDP, 1 from the UCP and 17 were nominated by collecting signatures.
In the Minsk oblast election commission party nominees are represented by LDP and CPB. No representatives of the opposition were included in it.
No representatives of democratic opposition were included in the Mahiliou oblast election commission.
A special attention should be paid to the Minsk city election commission, to which the authorities included Siarhei Alfer, a representative of the UCP, and Siarhei Vazniak, member of the bureau of the Central committee of the Fair World. Lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, who was nominated from the BPF Party, wasn’t included in the committee. Neither was political scientist Yury Chavusau, nominated by the civil association BPF Adradzhenne. Siarhei Matskevich, Chairperson of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs and coordinator of the Civil Society Forum for the Eastern Partnership initiative who was nominated by the Supolnasc Center. The remaining places were distributed among the ‘reliable’ civil associations: the Union of Veterans, Belaya Rus, BRSM, etc. Some of the experts consider the inclusion of representatives of opposition in the commissions as a political decision aimed at showing democratic progress before the West.
What concerns the electoral commission sin cities of oblast and district subordination, the tendencies of their forming resembled those of the oblast commissions. For instance, a representative of the Fair World was included in the Brest city territorial commission, whereas analogical applications of the BPF, the UCP and the BSDP Hramada were ignored. No representatives of opposition parties were included in the Vitsebsk city election commission, though the BPF Party, the Fair World, the BSDP Hramada nominated to it their representatives. Representatives of the Belarusian Democratic Party were nominated to the commission by collection of signatures and weren’t included either. UCP representative Yury Varonezhtsau and BCD representative, historian Sviataslau Shapavalau weren’t included in the Homel city commission. On the other hand, member of the Fair World Iosif Niachai, 75, was included in the Hrodna city election commission. Again, similar applications by representatives of the BPF, the UCP and the BSDH were ignored. Representatives of the BPF Party, the Fair World, the Mahiliou Human Rights Center and the charitable organization Drop of Life weren’t included in the Mahiliou city commission. Instead, the seats were divided between the CPB, Belaya Rus, BRSM, organization of veterans of the War in Afghanistan, organization of veterans of World War II and state trade unions.
Election commissions consist of reliable personnel
Preliminary information about the composition of the election commission already lets us state that the majority of seats is occupied by the people who proved their loyalty during the previous electoral campaigns.
For instance, 9 out of 12 members of the Barysau district election commission were members of the election commission during the Parliamentary elections 2008. Another noticeable thing is that the majority of members of the district commission have some connection to upbringing youth: Mikalai Zeliankevich, Deputy Chairman of the education department of Barysau city executive committee; Tatsiana Stasava, librarian of secondary school #11; Inesa Arynich, officer of the education department; Yury Lukashou, who was nominated by Barysau State Vocational Training College of Builders #62; Siarhei Maroz, secretary of elementary cell of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union; Halina Luzhkouskaya, director of the Barysau Children’s and Youth Art Center.
6 out of 13 members of the Mahiliou city election commission (Valiantsina Bansiukova, Raisa Valatkevich, Aliaksandr Zalatukhin, Volha Ivankova, Vital Karytka and Liudmila Shamiha) were members of the Mahiliou city election commission during the elections to local deputy Soviets in 2007. Aliaksandr Zalatukhin, director of Spetsmantazh enterprise, also headed the city election commission in 2003.
New guarantees of transparency are given, but old rules of the game are retained
According to the amended Electoral Code (Article 34) representatives of political parties and other civil associations, working collectives and citizens who nominated their representatives to the election commissions had the right to attend the sittings where the commissions were formed by the appropriate state organs. How did the authorities interpret the novelties in the Electoral Code while forming the commissions?
According to information received from the regions, the procedure of forming the territorial election commission differed from one place to another. For instance, the legal representatives of the citizens who nominated human rights defender Maryna Statkevich to the Barysau district election commission and the members of the United Civil Party who nominated there Rehina Viltouskaya weren’t informed about the joint sitting of the Barysau city executive committee and the Presidium of the Barysau city Soviet of deputies at which the commission was formed. A similar thing happened during the establishment of the Brest city election commission. Though Siarhei Vakulenka, who was nominated by collecting signatures, asked the executive committee to inform him about the place and time of the appropriate sitting, it wasn’t done.
The establishment of the Biaroza district election commission took place in even stranger circumstances: representatives of the district executive committee politely answered to the nominees to the commission Tamara Shchapiotkina and Kastus Dzenisenia that they didn’t know when and where the sitting would take place, but later said that the sitting took place ‘suddenly’ - they had been called to the sitting with lists of the nominees and the commission was formed.
At the same time, there were registered positive examples. In particular, officers of he Minsk oblast executive committee took into account the lawful request of the citizens who nominated the Barysau human rights defenders Aleh Matskevich to the oblast election committee, to be invited to the sitting at which the commission was to be established. As a result, Siarhei Salash, representative of the people who had signed in support of Matskevich’s candidacy, was invited to the sitting.
Those non-included lodge complaints
As a result of amendments to the Electoral Code the individuals and organizations whose nominees weren’t included in election commission got the right to appeal at court against the appropriate decisions of the forming organs. This is a new practice, but many of those who weren’t included in the commissions, are going to use this opportunity.
In particular, on 30 January a number of civil and political activists lodged complaints with the Central Election Commission, the Hrodna oblast court and the Leninski district court in Hrodna concerning their non-inclusion in territorial commissions. Viktar Sazonau was nominated to the Hrodna oblast election commission from the BSDH, civil and political activist Aleh Kalinkou was nominated there by collection of signatures. Siarhei Malchyk was nominated to the Hrodna city election commission from the BPF. Viktar Sazonau, Aleh Kalinkou and Vadzim Saranchukou, Chairman of the Hrodna city organization of the BPF Party, lodged complaints with the aforementioned state organs. They believe that their rights were violated in the process of the establishment of election commissions, which is a manifestation of adverse discrimination of democratic parties and activists.
On 28 January political scientist Yury Chavusau complained to the Minsk city court against the decision of the Presidium of the Minsk city Soviet of deputies and the Presidium of the Minsk city executive committee according to which he hadn’t been included in the Minsk city election commission as a representative of the civil association BPF Adradzhenne. He believes that his non-inclusion is political motivated, as there were no defects in the documents he had presented to the state organs.
On 29 Janury the Barysau district court received a complaint against the non-inclusion of Maryna Statkevich to the Barysau district election commission. The plaintiffs ask the court to make Presidium of the Barysau city Soviet of deputies and the Barysau district executive committee to reverse their old decision and take a new decision on inclusion of Maryna Statkevich in the commission. They also insist on inviting her representative Leu Marholin to the appropriate sitting of these state organs.
The legal term for considering the complaints is three days. Though those who were not included in the commissions don’t believe in the positive outcome of appealing against the decisions of the forming organs, they still use this opportunity, because their inaction could be considered as agreement to such actions of the organs that established the commissions.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections