Election campaign: numbers and tendencies of the week
As far as the well-known Stalin's principle 'votes doesn't matter, what matters is who and how counts them' is still actual for Belarus, the week past was very important for the election campaign, because this period was connected with the nomination of representatives to precinct commissions – those who count the votes. This stage of the elections ended on the last day of the week. Now the election committees will decide who to trust to count the poll. The week was also defined by the active nomination of candidates to deputies and presentation of the necessary documents to the appropriate territorial and constituency election commissions. This process will last till 15 March. These two simultaneous processes and the general political atmosphere against the background of which they were taking place were in the focus of attention of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections.
Nomination of candidates to precinct election commissions
7 March was the last day of nomination of candidates to the precinct election commissions according to the timing schedule of the elections. By this date, political parties, civil associations, working collectives and citizens had an opportunity to pass documents for nomination of their representatives to the commissions that need to be established not later than 10 March. The precinct commissions are formed by the appropriate district, city, town, settlement and village executive committees.
A total of 6,387 precinct commissions were established, which corresponds to the number of precincts. 279 of them are located in patient care institutions and 48 – in military units. According to the legislation, the commissions must consist of 5-19 members. Thus, about 70,000 persons will become members of precinct elections commissions these days.
The formation of precinct commissions is attentively watched by opponents of the authorities, who consider this state of the election as a test for real liberalization of the election process. Some of them don't rule out that their decision to continue running at the elections or withdraw from them can depend on the results of the formation of precinct commissions.
At present we don’t know the final numbers that would present a detailed picture of the formation of precinct election commissions throughout Belarus, but can already state that political parties have taken an active part in this process. As a rule, they nominated representatives to the commissions in the constituencies where their candidates intend to run for the elections. Here are the numbers that were received from observers working in different regions of Belarus:
The Homel coalition of the United Democratic Forces nominated about 200 persons to the precinct election commissions. More than 100 of them were nominated by the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Free World (31 in Homel, 15 in Zhlobin and 12 in Rechytsa) and more than 90 – by the United Civil Party (65 of them – in Homel). In the Brest oblast the oppositional parties nominated 75 representatives. In particular, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada nominated 14 persons (13 of them in Brest), the Belarusian Popular Front Party – 28 (19 of them in Brest), the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World – 26 (including 16 in Brest), the United Civil Party – 7 persons (all in Brest). In Barysau, the district organization of the United Civil Party filed with the district election commission a list of 27 candidates to precinct election commissions. Fair World was the first to nominate members to precinct commissions in the Orsha district: 7 persons were nominated by it in Orsha and 3 more – in the Orsha district. In Hrodna, 16 persons were nominated by the BPF Party, 23 – by UCP, 4 – by the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada. Some more members of the latter party were nominated by collecting electors' signatures. BSDH also nominated 4 persons in Svislach (Hrodna oblast) and 3 more members of the party got nominated by collecting signatures. 26 democratic activists were nominated to precinct election commissions in Slonim. In Minsk, 68 persons were nominated by BPF and 50 – by UCP. At the same time, members of the parties state that they have no illusions that the nominees will be included in the precinct commissions. These moods are reflected in the words of Anatol Paulau, Chairperson of the Minsk city UCP organization: 'None of our nominees will be included in the precinct commissions, because the commissions are the place where everything is really happening. Even now the percentage of the democratic activists included in election commissions is quite low, and it will be lower in the case of precinct commissions.'
Nomination of candidates to deputies
During the week, territorial and constituency election commissions presented the current information on the number of the packets of documents that were passed to them for registration of candidates for the local Soviets of Deputies of different levels.
As of 3 March, the territorial and constituency commissions of the Mahiliou oblast received 1,271 packets of documents. The majority of the candidates (1,001) intended to run for village Soviets of Deputies, 234 – for district Soviets, 22 – for settlement Soviets, 8 – for the Soviets of towns and cities of oblast subordination and 6 – for the oblast Soviet.
As of 5 March, the territorial and constituency election commissions of the Vitsebsk oblast received 1,646 packets of documents for registration of candidates. A total of 3,530 deputies need to be elected to all local Soviets of Deputies of the oblast. 828 persons were nominated candidates by collection of signatures, 808 - by working collectives and 10 – by parties (8 of them – by the Communist Party of Belarus).
As of 5 March, documents were passed for registration of 2,298 candidacies with the election commissions in the Homel oblast.
As said by Aliaksandr Vusau, Deputyh Chairperson of the personnel department of the Homel oblast executive committee, 1,807 persons applied for registration as candidates to village Soviets of Deputies, 105 – as candidates to settlement Soviets, 13 – as candidates to the town Soviets in the towns of district subordination, 20 – to the Homes city Soviet, 330 – to the district Soviets and 23 – to the Homel oblast Soviet. 18 persons were nominated in two ways: by collecting signatures and by decisions of working collectives or by collecting signatures and by decisions of their parties. 61% persons were nominated as candidates by collecting of signatures, 37% - by working collectives. Political parties have nominated 13 persons. 11 of them were nominated by the Communist Party of Belarus and 2 – by the United Civil Party. 42 of the nominated candidates are unemployed. A total of 3,952 deputies need to be elected to all local Soviets in the Homel oblast, 60 of them – to the Homel oblast Soviet.
According to information of observers, in some regions opposition candidates aren’t nominated at all. One of the reasons is pressurization from the side of the local authorities. In particular, Aliaksandr Melnikau, member of Fair World, intended to run for the Rahachou district Soviet of Deputies but changed his mind after Mikhail Zaitsau, Chairperson of the culture department of the district executive committee, threatened him with dismissal from work unless he withdrew from the elections. Intern Yauhen Yakimenka, member of the United Civil Party and the Young Democrats, had to withdraw from the elections because of pressurization at the place of work, the open stock company Mineral Wax Factory, the administration of which put him before an ultimatum, saying he could either continue working there or participate in the elections.
Representatives of the democratic community nominated their candidacies mainly by collecting electors' signatures (and, to a lesser extent – were nominated by their parties), whereas pro-regime candidates were usually nominated by working collectives. In particular, the collectives of the bakery plant and enterprise Kamunalnik Kalinkavichski nominated Aleh Barysenka, Chairperson of the community services of the Homel oblast executive committee, a candidate to the Homel oblast Soviet of Deputies at election constituency #35. Tamara Zaitsava, coordinator of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy in the Homel oblast, intends to run at the same constituency and can become his rival if her candidacy will be registered. Workers of the Open Joint Stock Society Ceramics unanimously voted for nomination of Alena Padaliak, deputy of the Soviet of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Deputy Chairperson of the Vitsebsk oblast Soviet of Deputies of the 25th Convocation, Director of the Vitsebsk oblast philharmonic a candidate to the Vitsebsk oblast Soviet of Deputies of the 25th Convocation at the Haharynskaya election constituency #46. The working collective also nominated Siarhei Zhaholkin, Deputy Director General on ideology and personnel of the Open Joint Stock Society Ceramics, a candidate to the Vitsebsk city Soviet of Deputies at the Uskhodniaya election constituency #1.
According to the timing schedule, the process of nomination of candidates by political parties, working collectives and collection of electors' signatures will last till 15 March. Then the election commissions will check up the received documents with to find whether they correspond to the requirements of the Election Code and take decisions on registration of candidates.
Collection of signatures: initiative groups face obstacles
In some places obstacles were put to members of initiative groups who collected signatures in support of democratic candidates. During the week they were banned to collect signatures in student hostels in Vitsebsk, Mahiliou, Homel and Salihorsk.
For instance, member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, pretender to candidate Leanid Padbiaretski, wasn't let in dormitory #1 of the Mahiliou State University named after A.Kuliashou. Volha Dzedavets, the dormitory supervisor, explained that he needed to have an agreement of Uladzimir Yaseu, the university provost. During the week Mr. Padbiaretski had several meetings with the administration of the university. Finally, on 4 March the rector's office informed him that Rector Bandarenka charged the university lawyer with solving the issue. As Leanid Padbiaretski learned, the lawyer was going to give him an answer in two-week term, after the end of the period when the signatures could be collected.
Collecting signatures was also banned at dormitory #4 of the Homel State University named after F.Skaryna. Andrei Aksionau, a member of an initiative group, addressed Siarhei Khanenia, the university provost, in connection with this. Khanenia, in his turn, proposed that the activist wrote an application to Rector, Aliaksandr Rahachou, and wait for an answer in the legal terms. The administration of the university motivated the ban on collection of signatures by the internal regulations of dormitories and explanations by the Central Election Commission of certain provisions of the Election Code.
The Salihorsk district election commission didn’t grant the complaint of the initiative group of Aliaksei Valabuyeu against actions of workers of Salihorsk mining chemical technical school and declared it groundless. The administration of the educational establishment stated that members of the initiative group weren’t let in the school dormitory to prevent the unlawful collection of signatures among the under-aged students who dwelt there; and added that the collectors of signatures must observe the internal regulations of the dormitory that says nothing about visits of any persons except for the students’ parents. At present Valabuyeu's headquarters appeal against this ruling at the Central Election Commission.
Uladzimir Ramanovich, activist of the Vitsebsk city Soviet of Deputies who intends to run for the Vitsebsk city Soviet of Deputies and collects signatures on his own, was not let in dormitory #3 of Vitsebsk Technological University. The dormitory supervisor didn’t manage to explain Mr. Ramanovich whether she had any legal grounds for banning him from entering the dormitory. Following this incident, Uladzimir Ramanovich lodged a complaint with the Central Election Commission.
Members of initiatives groups quote the insufficient public information concerning the elections to the local Soviets of Deputies as a circumstance complicating the collection of signatures.
In particular, in Babruisk information materials are still absent even in the buildings of the educational establishments and enterprises where precinct commissions will be located and voting will take place. Information about the pace of the election campaign is published only in the newspaper of the Babruisk town executive committee. Andrei Stasialovich, member of the local organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, stated that while collecting signatures he had an impression that only about 10% of the population (or even less) knew about the elections. Mikhail Kavalkou, Chairperson of the Independent Trade Union Belarusian, pointed at the lack of information and said that 'the people don't know and they don’t care'. According to him, only the main ideologist may know about the elections at the plant where he works. Potential candidate Taisiya Kabanchuk, member of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Party who collects signatures in support of her candidacy, complains about having to waste much time on explaining to the electors that the elections will soon take place.
There is no sufficient public information about the upcoming elections in the city of Baranavichy. The city is divided into five large districts, whereas there are just few billboards in the center of the city informing that the election will take place on 25 April. The local state newspaper Nash Krai doesn't provide its readers with sufficient information about the elections either and publishes only the official information that doesn’t present a great interest for the readers.
At the same time, in certain regions the state editions have already started hidden agitation for pro-governmental candidates. In particular, Liudmila Kabylianets, member of the Rahachou organization of the Fair World, says that the authorities' candidates must have been already determined in Rahachou: 'The local state press has started praising some persons. Most probably, these praised will become the pro-governmental candidates.'
Bear in mind that such opinions aren’t groundless. 'It is reasonable to use all possible media as a tribune for the persons who are elected to the state positions and also for political advertisement,' run the recommendations to the regional ideologists that appeared after Natallia Piatkevich, Deputy Chairperson of the Presidential Administration, explained during a seminar for state officials that contemporary circumstances demanded 'new, informal approaches'. The local ideologists seem to have paid a prompt reaction to such calls by using the local state press as a tribune for pro-governmental candidates.
Increasing pressurization of participants of election process
The authorities of all levels increased the pressure on representatives of representatives of democratic forces and members of their initiative groups. Independent observers are harassed as well.
On 6 March in Mahiliou, pretender to candidate Mikalai Rasiuk was dismissed from work due to the expiry of the labor contract. 'Three-year contracts were concluded with all other workers, whereas my contract was just for one year. I consider it is a manifestation of adverse discrimination. I am an industrious person and received a number of awards from the administration of the district and the oblast for my work,' commented Mr. Rasiuk. During the last seven years he worked as an electrician at the open stock company Lausanbud, at construction administration #129. He was informed about the dismissal in a months' advance. Bear in mind that Mikalai Rasiuk had run for the local Soviets of Deputies in 2007. According to the official information, he won about 20% of votes, which was one of the highest official result among the oppositional candidates in Belarus.
Babruisk resident Iryna Uvarava who is going to run at the elections, is intimidated by visits of a court marshal. Her husband co-owned a firm, but died six months ago. The woman decided not to take part in his business, that’s why now the firm is owned by the husband’s partners. However, the check-ups started coming not to them, but to her. Iryna considers it as an attempt of pressurization.
Potential candidate Viachaslau Sheleh encountered problems as well. A female member of his initiative group was threatened by her boss. He told her that she could either continue working or being a member of the initiative group.
A criminal case was instigated against Volha Siianava, member of the initiative group of her mother, Aliaksandra Siianava. Before this, she was followed by a car with Minsk number plates for about a month.
Yury Hryniavetski, Chairperson of the Babruisk organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, was summoned to the local KGB department as a ‘person who knows about circumstances that are important for ensuring the national security’. There he was questioned for three hours by KGB officer Aliaksandr Kharashkevich who specializes in the Babruisk oppositionists.’ At the weekend I participated in a social democratic conference in Druskininkei (a town in south Lithuania),’ says Yury Hryniavetski. ‘They were mostly interested to find why I went to Lithuania, who I talked with and how much money I received for the elections. I think, their main aim was to find out to which extent the foreign states support democrats at these elections.' The KGB officer put down the content of the talk. He also threatened to fine Mr. Hryniavetski for refusal to answer the questions.
Mr. Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna, believes that harassment of independent candidates and members of their initiative groups by the law machinery and state agencies is connected with the wish to prevent any complications in the future, because the local authorities will face certain problems and will have to solve them in loco if some democratic candidates win at the elections and become members of any Soviets of Deputies. ‘The Central Election Commission is working quite well. However, the ongoing pressurization isn’t favorable for holding free elections. If we ignore the cases of persecution and summons to tax and investigative bodies, this year’s elections demonstrate a considerably better numbers than the previous ones – the percent of refusals to register initiative groups is insignificant. However, the things that are taking place on the local level spoil the image the authorities wish to create,’ he said.
Sviatlana Rudkouskaya, resident of Hrodna nominated to the Praletarskaya constituency election commission #17 on elections to the Hrodna oblast Soviets of Deputies as an observer from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, considers as harassment the problems she faced at her work. The observer has been Chairperson of building and loan association #8 for four years and hasn’t had any admonitions or even minor remarks concerning her work from the side of the Leninski district executive committee in Hrodna, but got in trouble after her nomination as an independent observer. The Leninski district executive committee served her two writs. The case was passed to the administrative commission of the Leninski DEC, headed by Aleh Bialinski, the DEC manager. Bear in mind that during the latest election campaigns Bialinski and Arkhipau have invariably occupied the positions of chairperson of precinct and constituency election commissions respectively.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections