Electoral marathon: events, tendencies and figures of the week
Electoral marathon: events, tendencies and figures of the week
The week started with two press-conferences covering the progress of the election campaign.
On 1 February Chairperson of the Central Electoral Committee Lidzia Yarmoshyna told the journalists about the successful finish of the first stage of the electoral campaign (formation of territorial election committees), highlighting the main tendencies of the stage. On the same day Belarusian human rights activists declared the start of a monitoring campaign ‘Human Rights Activists for Free Elections’, providing their assessment of the first weeks of the election marathon. The week was also marked by a number of strong statements by opposition parties, several appeals against non-inclusion of opposition candidates nominated for territorial committees, as well as by nominating for constituency election committee.
One stage – different accents
The CEC head Lidzia Yarmoshyna stated that all the necessary territorial committees had been formed: 1,495 in total, including 6 regional committees, 1 Minsk city committee, 118 district committees, 12 city committees, 14 town committees, 56 small town committees and 1,288 village committees. The committees are composed of 11,697 (90% out of 13,106 candidates nominated for the committees). 52% of them were nominated through applications. 12.8% of the committeemen represent working collectives, 35.5% are members of parties and NGOs. So, Mrs. Yarmoshyna proudly declared that the provision of the Electoral Code requiring that at least one third of the committees’ composition should be formed out of representatives of political parties and public associations had been implemented.
The figures are as follows: 105 party members were selected for territorial electoral committees (0.9%) – the Communist Party of Belarus, 75; the Belarusian Party of the Left ‘Fair World’, 9; Liberal-Democratic Party, 7; the Republican Party of Labour and Justice, 5; the United Civic Party of Belarus, 4; Belarusian Agrarian Party, 2; Belarusian Social-Democratic Party Hramada, 2; Social-Sportive Party, 1; 149 candidates were nominated, i.e. 1.1% out of all the nominees. 4,024 representatives of public associations were selected members of territorial committees (34.4%): Belaya Rus, 517; Belarusian Republican Youth Union, 527; Belarusian Women’s Union, 489; the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, 303; the Federation of the Trade Unions of Belarus, 1,882 and others (306).
Apart from that, Mrs. Yarmoshyna noted that some parties had not been included in the territorial committee due to their own faults: ‘Some political parties had the wrong nomination for the territorial electoral committees. For example, they failed to comply with the principle of conformity, i.e. a regional party office has the right to nominate candidates for regional councils and regional electoral committees only.
Human rights activists, in their turn, at a press conference, analyzing the same stage of the election campaign the CEC Chairperson had spoken about, drew attention to another aspect of this process. ‘So far, the hope that the provision for one-third of the representatives of public organizations and political parties will ensure actual participation of the democratic parties in the committees has failed to come true’, said Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna. ‘This can be explained by the fact that many of the parties have no primary units, which are put on the record or registered. For example, the Party of the Belarusian Christian Democracy was not able to nominate candidates for membership on election committees, so the representatives of the party were nominated by collection of signatures. Out of more than 40 people nominated by the BCD only three were elected.’
Also, human rights activists said that the atmosphere of fear and obedience to government had accompanied and continues to accompany the electoral process in Belarus. ‘The situation is unfavorable for open elections from the beginning, - said Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna. – This year, the Belarusian authorities, especially the Central Electoral Committee, are faced with a difficult task - to hold local elections more or less decently. And what openness or political struggle can we speak of when there are whole regions, where except for regional cities and a few large settlements, there is virtually no representation of any registered party structures. The committees are composed of people from those organizations with whom the government has been working hand in hand for many years. The creation of new democratic parties in Belarus is almost impossible. In 2009, there were several attempts to register new political parties: the Party of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, the Party of Freedom and Progress, the Belarusian Party of Workers. All their attempts were unsuccessful. There has not been any new democratic party in Belarusian politics since 2000, and the number of those active continues to decline. Last year, our organization repeatedly noted cases of dismissal of party activists by their employers. - said Ales Bialiatski. - The same applies to active students who are expelled from universities for their civil activities. In fact, the authorities have been encouraging the depoliticization of society.’
Chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak said that ‘it is important to track both the practice of actual application of the law and the background of this election campaign, because fair elections can take place only when the country's human rights are not violated. People should be free to shape opinions, to be free in the dilemma: to vote or not to vote, to consciously make their choice. In addition, it is necessary that this choice was also correctly calculated. Considering all these aspects, we must draw appropriate conclusions and make recommendations for the future.’
To run or not to run: open question for opposition
The formation of the territorial committees puzzled the democratic opposition: should they continue participation in such elections? At a press conference on 2 February representatives of the UDF (United Democratic Forces) declared that the final decision concerning their run in the campaign would be made after the formation of electoral committees. The United Civic Party leader Anatol Liabedzka noted that ‘so far the formation of territorial electoral committees shows that the authorities have decided to retain the right to appoint deputies.’ The leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Anatol Liaukovich said that the pro-democratic forces will continue participation in the election campaign: nominate representatives for district and divisional election committees, and nominate candidates. ‘At the same time, we reserve the right to refuse to run in the elections at any stage’, he stressed.
Representatives of the UDF also concluded that the liberalization of the electoral process had not occurred. Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Party of the Left ‘Just World’ Valery Ukhnaliou noted that the authorities did not seek to democratize the election: ‘Formally, the formation of the territorial committees was as if everything is fine, but essentially nothing has changed. Amendments to the legislation require that one third of the electoral committees must be representatives of political parties and public associations. This quota is filled with representatives of the pro-governmental associations. At the same time, in a number of territorial election committees there are no representatives of political parties whatsoever.’
Regional party members also spoke of the dependence of further participation in the elections on the formation of constituency and polling station election committees. Such an option, for example, was expressed by the Chairman of the UCPB Barysau city office Mikhail Vasilieu. According to him, at least eight members of his party are prepared to run in Barysau region. But if democratic opposition activists are not elected for the committees, the further participation in the elections with predictable ‘elegant’ results will be useless.
Another liberalization test
In accordance with the schedule of the election campaign, the nomination of candidates to constituency election committees during local council elections and Minsk city council was to be completed before 5 February inclusive, and the committees must be formed within three days after the nomination. The right to nominate representatives may be used by political parties, civic organizations, labor groups and citizens - through the collection of signatures. On 8 February constituency committees should be fully formed. In total, 367 district committees should be formed, including Mahiliou regional council (58 deputies), and all the other regional councils – 60 deputies each. Minsk will have 9 territorial committees, which will act as constituency electoral committees in each of the city’s districts.
Despite the fact that most of the representatives of democratic parties were unable to get on the territorial election committees, the parties have not ignored the nomination of their candidates for the constituency committees.
In Minsk, the Belarusian Popular Front ‘Adradzhennie’ and the BPF have applied for inclusion of their nominees in all the nine of the territorial election committees of the capital, but they express little hope for the inclusion of their candidates in the committees. Among the candidates for Minsk territorial committees nominated by parties are Uladzimir Labkovich and Yury Chavusau, which were not included in Minsk city election committee.
The UCPB, at this stage, staked on famous figures. The party has filed an application for their election to Minsk territorial committees. Among their nominees are People's Artist of Belarus, Zinaida Bandarenka, the party chairman Anatol Liabedzka, honorary party chairman Stanislau Bahdankevich, former Labor Minister Aliaksandr Sasnou, the founder of the Women's Party ‘Nadzeya’ Valiantsina Paliavikova, a deputy of the Supreme Council of the 13th convocation Aliaksandr Dabravolski, member of the Party’s executive board Uladzimir Ramanouski, UCPB deputy chairman Ihar Shynkaryk, a political scientist and journalist Siarhei Nikaliuk. However, hopes for a fair formation of the territorial committees in Minsk are not also very large, both for the party leaders and its less famous candidates.
The Belarusian Party of the Left ‘Just World’ nominated 107 members for constituency electoral committees. The party’s vice-chairman Valery Ukhnaliou notes that the party hopes this year local authorities ‘will be more intelligent, and representatives of democratic forces’ will appear in constituency committees.
The Homel coalition of democratic forces has nominated 53 people for constituency committees - mainly members of the United Civil Party and the Party of the Left ‘Just World’, as well as a number of non-partisans nominated by collecting of signatures. Thus, they are planning to cover all the 20 constituencies of the city of Homel, as well as other constituency committees, where opposition candidates are going to run.
The near future will show how the government will pass another test in the liberalization of thye electoral procedures.
The provisions of the Electoral Code are new, but in practice it’s all old
Throughout the week in the official media published the lists of the members of territorial electoral committees. According to observers, in most regions the data on the committees’ members is far from being explicit. For this reason, it is often impossible to figure out how the reform of the electoral law is being implemented in practice.
For example, no published data on the occupation of the members of Polatsk town territorial election committee has appeared; however, regional observers estimate that state officials constitute over two-thirds of the committee composition. Baranavichy state-owned newspaper ‘Nash kray’ has also deprived its readers of the opportunity to learn about the working places of those on the city election committee. So has the Babruiskaye zhytstsio newspaper, which failed to disclose the high-level posts in state organs and enterprises occupied by the majority of the city election committee members. But, as it is stressed by the observers, all of these individuals were nominated by citizens through signature collection. In the same way 7 people were elected to the territorial election committee of the town of Malaryta – the district newspaper Holas chasu provided no information on the committeemen.
And yet, the information collected on members of territorial electoral committees confirmes the previous predictions: the places are occupied by ideologically loyal and proven in previous election campaigns people.
In Svetlahorsk district committee 9 of the 13 current members have worked in the town’s constituency committee in the parliamentary elections of 2008. Almost a quarter of it is the local executive committee staff - deputy chairman Siarhei Miarkulau (during the previous elections he was chairman of the committee), head of the department of organizational and personnel work Uladzimir Kukar and deputy chief of ideology department Alla Mankewich.
In Salihorsk district election committee the newly-elected chairman is member of the town executive committee Mikhail Yakimovich, his deputy is head of the ideology department of ‘Belaruskali’ Anatol Makhlai. It should be noted that in accordance with the published data, every third member of the committee was nominated by collecting of signatures, with the necessary number of political parties and public associations members. But if you learn the occupation of such nominees (which is not reported in the newspaper), it turns out that some of them (e.g. Mikhail Yakimovich, who was chairman of the constituency committee during the latest parliamentary elections), work in Salihorsk executive committee. So does the BRSM’s nominee Sviatlana Viaryha. Sviatlana Radziuk, who in 2008 was nominated to the constituncy committee by the executive committee, has now been elected for the committee as a public association member – she was nominated by the trade union of public employees and other agencies. In total, seven of the eleven members of the committee have worked together as committeemen during the parliamentary elections in 2008.
In the Homel regional committee there are also mostly loyal officials . The chairman is director of the Belhosstrakh Homel regional office Mikalai Stosh. The secretary of the committee is head of the department of public health, deputy chief physician of the Homel Regional Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health, as well as executive board member of the Homel Regional Women's Union Halina Salanets. Among the members of the committee are the editor of the regional newspaper ‘Homelskaya prauda’ Nina Zlydzenka, a BRSM representative Andrei Beliakou, director of the Agricultural Center ‘Paudniovy’ Mikhail Karnadud, an active ‘public figure’ activist of the pro-governmental Communist Party, chairman of the Council of Elders at Homel regional executive committee, one of the founders of the Public Organization ‘Belaya Rus’ Yury Samborski, deputy head of the organizational and personnel department of the regional executive committee Aliaksandr Usau (‘experienced participant’ of electoral campaigns), and head of the public relations department of the local executive committee Vital Utkin.
Minsk regional committee, which is also composed of various ‘heads’, ‘chiefs’ and ‘chairman’, is headed by director of Minsk regional territorial center of the state property fund; its secretary is Volha Bialiaeva, chief specialist of the ideology department of the executive committee.
Most state employees whose positions are not known to voters, were nominated for the territorial electoral committees under secret procedures – ‘by applications from citizens’. In this way, the representatives of government agencies are seeking to cover up their real weight in the composition of the election committees. The latter may be officially considered as formed in accordance with the new changes to the Electoral Code.
The futility of court appeals
The legal subjects that had nominated their representatives for the territorial electoral committees, according to the recent amendments to the electoral law, have the right to appeal in court the rejection of their nominees. The subjects immediately tried to take advantage of this right, but none of the rulings on the formation of the territorial committees has been reversed yet, the court decision being final.
On 2 February, Judge Siarhei Shytsikau of Homel Tsentralny Court ruled to turn down the complaint by the UCPB Homel city office. The party tried to appeal the non-inclusion of its representative in the city election committee - the former deputy of the Supreme Soviet, Candidate of Technical Sciences Yury Varonezhtsau. The court concluded that the decision of the presidium of the city council of deputies and the executive committee on the formation of the city election committee was adopted in accordance with the law, the court failed to find any irregularities in the adoption of this decision.
On 4 February a similar decision was taken by Homel Regional Court upon the consideration of the complaints by the UCPB regional organization Vasil Paliakou against the decision of the presidium of the regional council and the executive committee on the formation of the regional election committee. The UCPB’s local office chairman appealed against the non-inclusion of a UCPB member Sviatlana Haldade in the electoral committee - the former chairperson of the city council of deputies and former chairperson of the executive committee. Vasil Paliakou said that during the formation of the committee the voting for the candidates was a ticket vote, with no consideration of separate candidates at all.
On 3 February Minsk City Court held meetings to hear the cases on complaints by the public association Belarusian Popular Front ‘Adradzhennie’ and the BPF against the non-inclusion of their candidates - respectively Yury Chavusau and Uladzimir Labkovich – in Minsk city election committee. Having studied the decision by the presidium of Minsk city council of deputies and Minsk city executive committee, the court stated that there were no grounds for the reversal of the decision. As it turned out, in the case of the BPF candidate the official reason for the rejection of Uladzimir Labkovich was the fact that he was unemployed. When during the trial it was revealed that on the committee there were representatives of other parties who had no permanent jobs, whose nomination was not implemented properly, the judge responded that those were minor violations that did not provide grounds to reject a candidate for a committee.
As you can see, the practical test of another provision recently introduced into legislation proved to be a total disillusionment.
‘Human Rights Activists for Free Elections’