Week of election campaign: numbers, events and comments
The last week completely discredited the myth about the 'liberalization' of the election process in Belarus. The results of one of the most important stages of the campaign, the formation of precinct election commissions, just confirmed the pessimistic prognoses of the country's democratic community: the authorities retain the control over the poll. The representation of the democratic community in the precinct election commissions is scanty.
While opposition parties and associations lodged complaints with courts concerning the non-inclusion of their nominees in the precinct election commissions, the Central commission optimistically asserted that another stage of the election campaign was conducted 'in full conformity with requirements of the Election Code'. Commenting on the rare inclusion of democratic representatives in election commissions, Mikalai Lazavik, Secretary of the Central commissions, cynically argued that their pursuit of quantity often didn’t guarantee the quality.
Who is trusted to count the poll
According to the timing schedule of the organization measures on preparing and holding the elections, the formation of precinct election commissions in Belarus ended on 10 March. The appropriate state bodies were to publish their decision on the formation of the precinct election commissions within seven days after the establishment of the commissions. Members of the commissions will start implementing their duties after the approval of the composition of the commissions. They will start verifying the electors' signatures put in support of candidates, will furnish the precincts, prepare and hold the voting (both the early voting and the voting on the Election Day) and count the poll at the precincts.
According to the official information, the local authorities established a total of 6,387 precinct election commissions on the territory of Belarus. 279 of them are located in patient care institutions and 48 – in military units. 68,881 persons out of 77,241 nominees were included in these commissions.
According to Mikalai Lazavik, 2,696 (3.9%) of them are state officials, 7,810 (11.3%) are under 30, 5 are citizens of the Russian Federation. 67.7% of the commission staff are women. 31,015 persons were nominated by collecting electors' signatures, 26,731 of them were included (38.8% from the total number of members of commissions); 26,629 were nominated by civil associations, (25,233 (36.6%) were included); 17,385 were nominated by working collectives, 15,345 (22.3%) were included; and 2,212 were nominated by political parties, 1,572 (2.3%) included.
8,886 persons represent the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, 3,813 – the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, 3,684 – the Belarusian Union of Women, 3,341 – the republican civil association Belaya Rus and 2,019 – the Belarusian civil association of veterans.
Pro-governmental parties nominated a larger number of representatives, and received more seats at the commissions. In particular, the authorities included in the precinct commissions 432 out of 434 nominees of the Belarusian Social Sportive Party, 427 out of 516 nominees of the Communist Party of Belarus, 342 out of 358 nominees of the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, 131 out of 132 nominees of the Belarusian Agrarian Party, all 95 nominees of the Liberal Democratic Party and 69 out of 73 nominees of the Republican Party.
Only 76 representatives of precinct election commissions belong to opposition political parties. In particular, the authorities included in the commissions 31 out of 160 nominated representatives of the Belarusian Party of Leftists Fair World, 23 out of 281 nominees of the United Civil Party, 17 out of 122 nominees of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, and 5 out of 24 nominees of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada.
The analysis of the aforementioned numbers reveals the tendency to include almost all representatives of pro-governmental parties and few representatives of democratic opposition parties. This trend also concerns representatives of democratic civil associations who were nominated to precinct election commissions by collection of electors' signatures. For instance, only 1 of the 54 representatives of the For Freedom movement nominated by collecting the signatures was included in a precinct commission.
Commenting on the non-inclusion of the majority of the opposition representatives in the precinct commissions before journalists, Mikalai Lazavik stated that opposition parties 'nominated almost all their members without thinking whether these people will be able to work in the commissions'. 'The pursuit of quantity is not always supplied with quality,' he emphasized. Democratic activists, in their turn, consider the system of inclusion in election commissions devoid of any logics and draw many cases when pretenders with a good education, a great experience of administrative work and participation in election campaigns weren't included in precinct election commissions. For instance, Pavel Seviarynets, co-Chairperson of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, and Tatsiana Seviarynets, BCD coordinator in the Vitsebsk oblast, weren't included in commissions in the Vitsebsk oblast. The Minsk city organization of the United Civil Party nominated to a commission its Chairperson Anatol Paulau, who used to head a precinct commission and monitor elections in other countries. Political scientist Yury Labkovich and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich weren't included in precinct commissions in Minsk. One can only guess what requirements their candidacies failed to meet.
The observers also point at another widespread official reason for the non-inclusion of opposition parties and NGOs in precinct commissions – exhaustion of the quota for political parties and civil associations. Strangely enough, this quota was often exhausted without the inclusion of any opposition representatives in the commissions. The most original explanation was given in Pinsk: there were too many nominees from political parties and none of them were included not to offend anyone.
'The existing regime of the formation of precinct election commissions, in which a minimal number of democratic nominees were included by the authorities, shows that the system of the counting of votes won't change and the publicity of the elections won’t be achieved,' commented political scientist Yury Chavusau. 'The authorities decrease the number of opposition representatives in election commissions to avoid problems during the elections. The composition of the commissions reflects the level of democracy of the election process and serves as the fundament of political competition, that's why the process of formation of the commissions at the local elections became even a more important stage than the agitation of the electorate.'
Commissions are formed in secret
The summarization of the information from the regions leads to the conclusion that closeness became the basic characteristic of the process of formation of precinct commissions. In many regions, the sittings of executive committees followed a common scenario: the numbers of the precincts were read. The location and the number of members of the appropriate election commissions were voted, whereas the names and the places of work of their staff weren't announced. 'Read the commissions' lists in the newspaper' was a typical answer of state officials to the attempts of the subjects who had nominated their representatives to precinct commissions to find the surnames of the persons who were included in the commissions. Such 'publicity' was common in Babruisk, Baranavichy, Hrodna, Homel, Zhlobin, Mahiliou, Slonim and other settlements.
Exceptional quickness was another peculiarity of the formation of precinct commissions. In Baranavichy, the compositions of 66 precinct commissions comprising 685 persons were adopted in 5 minutes. No comments…
In some places the formation of precinct election commissions was closed. The organization department of the Barysau district executive committee didn’t answer the request of the local human rights defenders and political activists to inform them about the date of the committee's sitting on the formation of the commissions. In Salihorsk, the representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Leanid Markhotka didn’t receive any answer from the authorities to his request concerning the possibility to participate at the appropriate sitting. On 10 March he phoned to the reception of chairperson of the Salihorsk district executive committee and was told that the sitting had taken place the previous day. The reluctance of the Salihorsk vertical to admit public representatives to the sittings related to important stages of the election campaign acquired absurd forms: youth activist Ivan Shyla was detained on 10 March at the entrance of the room where the sitting on the formation of precinct commissions was taking place and was released from the police station only after its end.
The regime of supercloseness during the formation of precinct commissions makes it impossible to analyze the correspondence of the composition of the commissions to the legal requirements. For instance, the Election Code demands the publication in press of the following information about a member of election commissions: surname, name, patronymic name and the way of nomination. It is impossible to find out from such publications whether judges, prosecutors, administration of the local executive and regulatory bodies were included in the commissions and whether they comprised more than 1/3rd in a commission. According to the present legislation, observers have the right to attend the sittings at which the state bodies form the commissions. However, their right to receive such information is not guaranteed by the law. The practice shows that observers cannot obtain it even later, after the sittings of the commissions, whereas the Central election commission watches the strict abidance by the law in this respect. Last week, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, CEC Chairperson, gave an official answer to the address of Siarhei Housha, observer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee in the Baranavichy district election commission. She emphasized once more that observers weren't vested to control the establishment of commissions: 'As far as You are an observer at the Baranavichy city election commission, we consider it as necessary to turn Your attention to the fact that part 4 of Article 13 of the Election Code that contains the exhaustive list of the powers of observers, doesn’t provide them with the right to control the formation of election commissions'.
‘In fact, the election legislation of the Republic of Belarus, doesn’t contain any provisions concerning the public announcement of information about the places of work of the members of election commissions and the way of their nomination with specification of the working collectives, parties and other organizations by which they were nominated. However, it just shows that our legislation is still quite far from the international standards. Pitifully enough, the observers’ rights weren’t extended as a result of the latest amendments and the civil society is still deprived of the opportunity to conduct a full-scale monitoring of all stages of the electoral process. However, in a democratic society such role of observers is an obligatory condition for transparency and democracy of elections,’ commented Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna.
Unusable innovations in the law
The public representatives who got to the sittings of executive committees, but didn't receive the necessary information about the inclusion of their nominees to commissions, attentively followed the advice of the authorities to 'read the newspapers'. One of the reasons is that this is the first election campaign at which the results of the formation of election commissions are appealable under Article 34 of the Election Code that was amended in the run-up to the elections. The legally set term for appealing is three days since the formation of the commissions. At the same time, according to the law, the state newspapers have seven (?) days for publishing the decisions of the state organs on the formation of the commissions, which makes such the possibility of appealing practically useless, as the information can be published later than it is needed for appealing.
The Hrodna human rights defender Uladzimir Khilmanovich thought this collision over and required official explanations from the Central Election Commission. He wrote: 'On 10 March 2010, the sittings of the Kastrychnitski and the Leninski district executive committees of Hrodna on the formation of the precinct commissions for the elections to the local Soviets of Deputies took place. The information about the inclusion or non-inclusion of nominees of parties and public representatives wasn't announced at them. Moreover, such information wasn't presented for familiarization after the sittings of the aforementioned administrations.
I ask You to explain how representatives of parties and civil associations can exercise their right to apply to court in conformity with the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus during three days after the adoption of the decision on the non-inclusion of their representatives in the precinct election commissions if the if the composition of these commissions will be published in periodical press not later than in seven days.' Now he is waiting for the explanations of the Central Election Commission.
Representatives of the Homel city organization of the United Civil Party attended the sittings on the formation of precinct election commissions. However, the Chyhunachny and the Savetski district executive committees refused to provide them with information concerning the inclusion of the UCP nominees. The officials told the numbers of the nominees of political parties, civil organizations and working collectives who were included in the commissions, but refused to tell the surnames of the included UCP members. ‘I think that such actions violate Article 65 of the Constitution and Article 13 of the Election Code,’ commented Andrei Tolchyn, Chairperson of the Homel city UCP organization. Mr. Tolchyn lodged with the Homel city executive committee a complaint asking to oblige the district executive committees to present information about the inclusion of members of the party in the precinct commissions. However, he doesn’t believe that it will bring any results. ‘According to the law, we have three days for appealing against the non-inclusion of our members in the commissions. Most likely, these three days will pass before we receive all the necessary information and the time will be lost,’ stated Mr. Tolchyn.
Appeals and withdrawals from elections
Some parties appeal at courts against the results of the formation of precinct election commissions, whereas other ones stated their intention to withdraw from the elections.
On 11 March the Minsk city organization of the Belarusian Popular Front Party addressed the Partyzanski district court in Minsk with a complaint against the verdict of the district administration concerning the non-inclusion of its nominees in precinct election commissions (only 1 out of 12 nominees was included). The complaint runs that the nominated representatives of the party have the experience of participation in elections that is necessary for implementing the functions of members of precinct election commissions. 'By our address to court we give the authorities a chance to abide by an important criterion of democratic elections, transparency, by following our proposal on the inclusion of more representatives of the BPF Party in precinct election commissions,' pointed Yury Chavusau, who was directed to the court as the BPF representative.
Another complaint to court was lodged by the Brest oblast organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada after just 4 out of its 15 nominees were included in precinct commissions. Ihar Maslouski, Chairpersoin of the Brest oblast organization of the BSDP Hramada, stated that social democrats had nominated their representatives to the precinct election commissions of the constituencies where the majority of the party candidates intended to run. Commenting on the non-inclusion, he stated that 'firstly, the authorities hamper the active participation of democratic forces in the electoral campaign and secondly, the commissions will probably have much to hide'.
The Homel oppositionists withdraw from the elections because of the impossibility to count the poll. Ihar Sluchak, who intended to run at the Moladzevaya election constituency #30, stated that he refused from this intention. His team nominated its representatives to four precinct commissions of the constituency, but none of them were included. 'I refuse from participation the dishonest game these elections are,' stated I.Sluchak. 'With such formation of the precinct commissions the elections will be rigged, that's why there is no use in giving the
electors a hope that won't come true.'
The Brest oblast organization of United Civil Party decided to withdraw from the elections as well. Its Chairperson, Mikalai Koush, stated that this decision was reached at the working council of the oblast and the city UCP organizations in the evening of 11 March. Only 2 out of 7 UCP nominees were included in the precinct election commissions of Brest, and the non-included ones had the greatest experience of participation in election campaigns. 'We came to the collective decision not to participate the elections, at the same time giving each potential candidate and member of our party the opportunity to take such a decision on this matter independently,' stated M.Koush.
The statement of M.Lazavik that 'the formation of precinct election commissions was conducted in full conformity with requirements of the Election Code' looks absolutely senseless against such a background. Moreover, the only argument that supports the conclusions of CEC secretary, that 'more than 1/3rd of members of precinct commissions are representatives of civil associations and political parties and less than 1/3rd are state officials', remains very disputable.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections