Catch-22 in ‘improved’ Electoral Code
Vitebsk human rights activists addressed the chair of the Central Election Commission with a statement pointing to a legal conflict in the Electoral Code. Article 58 of the Electoral Code states: ‘Citizens of the Russian Federation, permanently residing in Belarus are entitled in the manner prescribed by the Code to participate in the elections of deputies of Local Councils of Deputies, in accordance with the international agreement of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation.’ In other words, the citizens of the Russian Federation, which currently take part in elections to local councils of deputies of 26th convocation, are endowed with the same rights and obligations as the citizens of the Republic of Belarus, including the right to campaign. However, Paragraph 5 of Article 45 of the EC clearly states that ‘foreign citizens and stateless persons have no right to take part in agitation activities.’ Violation of this provision of the Code may result in civil prosecution and a fine of 700,000 to 1,750,000 roubles.
Thus, human rights activists emphasize that the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus has a legal conflict. It arises from the fact that Russian citizens have the right to participate in the elections of deputies of local councils, including pre-election campaigning. On the other hand, as foreign nationals, in accordance with Paragraph 5 of Article 45 of the Code, they have no right to take part in campaigning and may be subject to civil punishment in the form of a fine.
Human rights activists suggested that the CEC addressed the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus with a proposal to remove the legal conflict from the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, and thereby restore the right to pre-election campaigning of Russian citizens who are running in the local council elections.
In the reply, signed by the Chair of the Commission Ms. Yarmoshyna, the CEC provides an official vision of the problem of campaigning by candidates for deputies of Local Councils of Deputies, who are citizens of the Russian Federation.
‘As for the presence of a conflict between Articles 45 and 58 of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, which is contained in your appeal, we would like to state the following information. We consider it necessary to note that the Electoral Code has a complicated structure, as it regulates the conduct of four types of election campaigns, recall of deputies and members of the Council of the Republic, the holding of national and local referenda. In this regard, the General Part of the Code sets the standards that define universal procedures for all the mentioned campaigns. The Special Part of the Code sets out rules that are activated only for a specific campaign or to implement certain procedures. The differentiation of norms in this way avoids duplication and facilitates the perception of the content of the law. In particular, the general rules of the Electoral Code provide for participation in the elections, including in the election campaign, of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus only. The Special Part of the Code (Article 58) stipulates that citizens of the Russian Federation, permanently residing in Belarus have equal rights in elections to local councils of deputies of the Republic of Belarus. The priority in this case would be the provisions of Article 58 - the so-called ‘special rules’. We would also like to inform that in practice the application of the above rules does not cause any difficulties or ambiguous understanding. Thus, in our opinion, the right of the citizens of the Russian Federation to campaign in elections to local councils of deputies of the Republic of Belarus does not require additional regulation by the Electoral Code.’
The Vitsebsk human rights activist Leanid Svetsik believes that the Belarusian CEC’s respond to the shortcomings of the current electoral law is very nervous, especially if these shortcomings are pointed to by human rights defenders. He said that the Belarusian Central Election Commission, instead of admitting that the Electoral Code contains a conflict that affects the rights of candidates, decided to pretend ‘not to see’ it at all.
‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’