Election campaign: numbers and tendencies of the last week
The week started with sizing up the results of forming of the constituency commissions on elections to the oblast Soviets of Deputies and the Minsk city Soviet of Deputies and holding the first sittings of these commissions. During the week the information on dismissals of claims against non-inclusion of nominees in territorial commissions was summed up. Simultaneously, political parties lodged with courts new complaints – against non-inclusion of their nominees to constituency election commissions, and the local authorities issued rulings on determining the places banned for picketing on collection of signatures in support of pretenders to candidates.
Formation of constituency commissions: numbers and assessment
According to the time schedule, on 8 February the forming of the constituency commissions on elections to the oblast Soviets of Deputies and the Minsk city Soviet of Deputies came to an end. According to the official information, 4 542 persons were included in 367 constituency commissions, 828 (18,2%) of them represent working collectives, 1 955 (43%) – civil associations, 301 (6,7%) – political parties and 1 457 (32,1%) were nominated through collection of electors’ signatures in their support.
Representatives of the ‘state NGOs’ Belaya Rus (319) and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) (332) were included almost in all election commissions. 218 members of the commissions represent the Belarusian Union of Women, 225, the Belarusian civil association of veterans and 701 – the Federation of the Trade Unions of Belarus (the official, pro-regime trade union federation).
What concerns political parties, 175 persons represent the Communist Party of Belarus, 19 – the Belarusian Agrarian Party, 16 – the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party, 12 – the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, 12 – the Social Democratic Party of People’s Agreement. Opposition parties received 72 seats in the commissions: 48 – the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World, 14 – the United Civil Party, 6 – the Belarusian Popular Front Party, 3 – the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada and 1 – the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada.
Commenting on the nomination of candidates by parties, Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, stated that parties demonstrated a greater activity not only in Minsk, but on the whole territory of Belarus, compared to the previous stage: ‘Political parties nominated 568 representatives, which constitutes 8,5% from the total number of nominees, whereas only 149 persons (1,1% from the total number of nominees) were nominated to the territorial commissions’. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, the CEC Chairperson, said: ‘We haven’t seen such activity among parties for a long time already. Some 8-9 parties participated in the latest parliamentary elections, whereas 13 parties attempted to take part in the present elections, though not of them proved to be ready to it.’
What concerns the assessment of the results of the formation of constituency commissions by political parties – most of them don’t see a significant liberalization of the electoral process. Anatol Liabedzka, Chairperson of the United Civil Party, said that the UCP nominated a ‘test number’ of representatives to the constituency commissions, and only ¼ of them were included. In his interview with RFE/RL the politician stated that the authorities again ignored the people who were at all points fit for working in election commissions.
Viktar Sazonau, Chairperson of the Hrodna oblast organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada, expressed the opinion that ‘several people were included to prevent the parties from declaring the refusal to participate in the elections, though we are ready to do it’.
The BPF Party assessed with a cautious optimism the results of formation of the constituency commissions in Minsk, where 6 out of 18 representatives were included in the commissions (2 of them were nominated from the BPF Party and 4 – from the civil association Belarusian Popular Front Adradzhenne). Kanstantsin Smolikau, Chairperson of the Vitsebsk oblast organization of the BPF, characterized the results of this stage of the election campaign as a ‘step in the right direction’ and said that in general the oblast BPF organization was satisfied with the inclusion of 4 out of 15 members in the constituency election commissions. ‘The inclusion of all 15 representatives of our organization would be an ideal variant for us. We should be realists, though: during the previous election campaign we didn’t have a single representative in the territorial and constituency election commissions,’ commented Mr. Smolikau.
Members of the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World received the largest number of seats of all opposition parties – 48, four of them in Minsk. Valer Ukhnaliou, Deputy Chairperson of the party, considers that this number is insufficient, but better than zero, as the party didn’t have a single representative in the election commissions during the previous elections to the local Soviets of Deputies.
State officials were nominated as representatives of civil sector
According to Article 34 of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus, ‘state officials cannot constitute more than 1/3rd of n election commission’. As it follows from the official data, the number of state officials in the constituency election commission is 527 out of 4 542 members, which is not too many. It seems that the legal requirement has been implemented.
In fact, the information received from observers in the different parts of the country allows making a conclusion that during the formation of the constituency commissions the authorities used the methods tested during the previous stage of the elections – when state officials were nominated to commissions through collection of electors’ signatures or as representatives of parties or civil associations. In this case it is quite clear why the state press published only the way of nomination for members of commissions, but withheld information about the places of their work. As a result it is impossible to clearly determine the number of members of commissions who work in the state power organs, which means that the provisions of Article 34 of the Election Code could be violated.
However, observers managed to obtain the required information in some regions of Belarus. For instance, there are 39 representatives of various trade unions in the constituency commissions of Homel. The majority of Deputy Chairpersons of the district executive committees of Homel were nominated to the commissions as members of the Belarusian Trade Union of workers of state and other institutions. One of them, Mikalai Maly, Deputy Chairperson of the Savetski district executive committee in Homel, was nominated to the commission of Uladzimirskaya election constituency #11 as a member of the civil association of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Bear in mind that after the election of the administration of this election commission, its member Leanid Sudalenka, representative of the United Civil Party, addressed Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, with a personal opinion cocnenrign the necessity to abolish the decision of the commission’s decision concerning the election of its Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and secretary. Mr. Sudalenka argues that all those elected to these positions are state officials, which violates the principle of independence of election commission from state organs. He also raised the question about the real number of state officers in the commission, as the places of their work hadn’t been announced at the sitting.
Another significant case was drawn by observers from the Vitsebsk oblast. Piotr Viaromyieu was nominated to the Liozna constituency commission #15 on elections to the Vitsebsk oblast Soviet of Deputies as a representative of the Vitsebsk oblast organization of the Belarusian civil association of veterans and was elected the commission Chairperson. Maryia Kazakevich was nominated to the commission as a representative of the Vitsebsk oblast organization of the Belarusian Union of Women and was elected Deputy Chairperson. Volha Kartauneva was nominated to the commission by the Vitsebsk oblast organization of the Belarusian trade union of workers of state and other institution and was elected the commission secretary. Let us draw your attention to the places of work of these persons. Piotr Viaromyieu, now pensioner, was Deputy Chairperson of the Liozna district executive committee less than two years ago. M.Kazakevich is Chairperson of the culture department, and V.Kartauyeva – the main specialist of the ideology department of this very executive committee. Besides, the commissioj member Uladizmir Sakalou, nominated to the commission as a representative of the Communist Party of Belarus, is Chairperson of the department of social employment and protection of the Liozna DEC. Ivan Kastenka, nominated to the commission as a representative of the Belaya Rus NGO, is the Deputy Director on ideology at the Liozna Liasgas forestry enterprise.
Thus, it is quite simple for the authorities to implement formally the innovative provisions of the Election Code and still retain the control over the activities of the constituency commissions.
Decisions of local authorities are upheld by courts
Political parties and other subjects of the electoral process lodged court claims against the non-inclusion of their representatives in election commissions. However, the courts upheld the decisions of the state organs on formation of the commissions and dismissed the complaints.
For instance, Volha Abramovich, Judge of the Barysau town court, dismissed the complaint against the decision of the Barysau district executive committee and the Presidium of the Barysau district Soviet of Deputies on forming of the district territorial commission on elections to the local Soviets of deputies.
The plaintiffs asked the court to find this decision unlawful and oblige the Barysau DEC and the Presidium of the Soviet of Deputies to take a new decision on forming the election commission with including into it Maryna Statkevich as a representative of the electors living on the territory of the appropriate election constituency.
Forming of the Barysau district election commission took place without public control: neither Maryna Statkevich, nor the people who had nominated her to the commission, were informed about the place and the time of the appropriate sitting of the Barysau DEC and the Presidium of the Barysau DSD.
Nevertheless, Judge Abramovich dismissed the complaint, arguing that it had been lodged by just 2 out of the 10 persons who had nominated Maryna Statkevich to the commission.
The Zhlobin district court upheld the decision of the local authorities who hadn’t included Valiantsin Yauzrezau, representative of the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World, in the Zhlobin district election commission. Judge Sviatlana Rubakhava decided that as long as the Election Code didn’t oblige the state organs to include representatives of opposition parties in election commissions, there were no legal grounds to reverse the decision on forming the Zhlobin district election commission and including Valiantsin Yauzrezau in it.
The Homel oblast court didn’t grant the complaint of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party against the non-inclusion of its representative Viktar Sazonau in the Hrodna oblast election commission, and the Leninski district court in Hrodna issued a similar verdict on the complaint of the Belarusian Popular Front against the non-inclusion of its representative Vadzim Saranchukou in the Hrodna city election commission. In both cases the courts argued that 1/3rd of these commissions were formed of members of political parties and civil associations, and didn’t consider as a violation that the candidacies of the BPF and the BSDP representatives weren’t even discussed at the sittings on formation of the commissions.
Judging by these results, there is little hope for the positive outcome of such complains. Nevertheless, the Hrodna oblast organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada lodged with the Hrodna oblast court a claim against the non-inclusion of its representatives Viktar Parfionenka and Uladizmir Khilmanovich in the constituency election commissions. The Hrodna oblast UCP organization also asked the oblast court to review the results of formation of constituency commissions as it considered as unlawful the non-inclusion of its representatives Iryna Kakareka, Aliaksandr Baradaukin, Ivan Kruk and Mikalai Ulasevich in the commissions.
By the way, it was discovered that Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, had a poor command of information concerning the court claims against the non-inclusion of nominees in election commission. In particular, on 12 February in Mahiliou, at a seminar-counsel for Chairpersons and secretaries of territorial and constituency election commissions and Chairpersons of the personnel and ideological departments of the district and city executive committees in Mahiliou oblast, she stated that the courts of Mahiliou oblast hadn’t received a single complaint against the formation of the election commissions. However, according to human rights defender Barys Bukhel, he knew that at least one complaint was lodged by representatives of the BPF Adradzhenne against the non-inclusion of its activist Siarhei Famin in a territorial election commission.
The printed organs of the local authorities have already begun the indoctrination of the population. Following an old tradition, Babruyskaye Zhyttsio, newspaper of the Babruisk executive committee, started it first. As far as the authorities don’t know the names of opposition candidates yet, the official critic is general. For instance, in the article The Same Old Songs its author Aliaksandr Tsimafeyeu explains to the readers why the ‘armchair parties’ don’t believe in these elections. According to him, they just have no chances for victory because they are unpopular and are reluctant to participate in the political life of the country. The regional observers point that during the latest parliamentary elections this newspaper frequently published articles with libel and insults towards democratic candidates and their families.
On 9 February Elections as a factor of civil society development, a seminar for Mahiliou ideologists, took place marking the beginning of the Country in the run-up to the elections, a joint project held by the ideological department of the Mahiliou city executive committee and the Mahiliou informational-ideological center and the ‘state NGO’ Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM). The project is destined for ‘informing the population about the pace of the election campaign and increasing its informational, political and legal culture’.
Among the planned activities there are information hours, meetings with members of election commissions, candidates to the local Soviets of Deputies and lecturers of higher educational establishments, working out information materials and memos for electors, organization of information stands and exhibitions. A questionnaire poll I am an elector will be held in February-March with the aim to study the electoral culture and behavior of youth. BRSM will also hold the youth marathon Your life – your choice.
During the sitting of the College Board of the education department of the Mahiliou obast executive committee (OEC), Piotr Rudnik, Chairperson of the Mahiliou OEC, reminded about a special responsibility of the pedagogical corps for holding the upcoming elections to the local Soviets of Deputies. Article Pedagogue’s Work Becomes More and More Important, published in edition #14 of the Mahiliouskiya Vedamastsi newspaper, contains a similar reminder by him.
Picketing is allowed where it is not banned
By 12 February the local authorities were to determine the places for holding pickets on collecting signatures in support of candidates. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Chairperson of the Central Commission on elections and holding of republican referenda, voiced this information on 1 February at press-conference in Minsk. However such demand contradicts to Article 61 of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, where it is stated that ‘…collection of electors’ signatures can be conducted in the form of picketing. No permission is needed for it unless the picketing is held in places that are banned for picketing by the local executive and regulatory authorities.’
That’s why, according to the law and contrary to the demand of the CEC Chairperson, state organs needed to determine the places that are banned for picketing, not the places that are allowed for it.
Moreover, according to the Timing Schedule, the places that are ‘banned for picketing with the aim of collecting electors’ signatures for nomination of candidates to deputies of the local Soviets’ needed to be determined by 12 February 2010 inclusive, whereas on 1 February Lidziya Yarmoshyna called another date, 14 February.
By 10 February CEC Chairperson improved her knowledge of the Election Code and stated that that if the local authorities didn’t publish the lists of the places banned for picketing, it would mean that it was allowed everywhere.
However, the appropriate rulings of the local authorities “for all life’s emergencies” didn’t take long to appear. For instance, the Pruzhany district executive committee adopted ruling #141 On determining the places banned for picketing with the aim of collecting electors’ signatures, featuring an extensive enumeration of the places where the picketing was banned and closing with the formula ‘and in other places where the picketing can present obstacles to the traffic, movement of pedestrians and normal functioning of organizations and institutions’. In fact, by means of such rulings collectors of signatures are pushed out to lonely places. Commenting on such ‘invention’ of the local authorities, Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, called such prohibitions wrong, because any place could be referred to one of the enumerated categories. He even promised to raise this question during his visit to Brest. However, there is one peculiarity: according to the law, the Central Election Commission cannot influence the decisions of district executive committee.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections