Presidential Election: Weekly Analytical Review

2010 2010-09-21T18:24:18+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/zasvabodnyjavybarylogo.png The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

 

Presidential Election: Weekly Analytical Review


I. INTRODUCTION

The legal basis of the electoral system of the Republic of Belarus is made up of the Constitution, Electoral Code, other legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus and statements (decisions) of the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums (hereinafter – the Central Election Commission, or the CEC).

The 2001 and 2006 elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus (based on the wordings of the Electoral Code of July 4, 2000, and January 4, 2003) were monitored by observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and some other less branched international missions.

In 2001, the OSCE concluded that "the 2001 presidential election process failed to meet the OSCE commitments for democratic elections formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document"[1], and in 2006, that "the conduct of the 2006 presidential election in Belarus failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections"[2].

On the contrary, the CIS Election Observation Mission believes that "the Electoral Code enables to conduct free and democratic elections and does not contain provisions providing discriminatory limitations to citizens' right to vote." The Mission "did not find facts that would put under the question legitimacy and democratic nature" of presidential elections[3].

In 2007 and 2008, the Resolutions of the UN General Assembly, Belarus was urged "to bring the electoral process and legislative framework into line with international standards and to rectify the shortcomings of the electoral process"[4].

On January 4, 2010, a number of amendments and additions were made in the Electoral Code.

The local elections, held in April 2010 on the basis of the new wording of the Electoral Code, showed that the latter had to some extent contributed to bringing the national electoral legislation closer to democratic standards. First of all, it referred to cancellation of severe restrictions in the procedure of candidates' nomination and registration. However, absence of transparency in the verification process of candidates' nomination materials had still allowed election commissions to apply discriminatory approach in relation to certain candidates.

In general, the election campaign had the same spirit as the previous ones; and no essential qualitative changes towards more democratic election practice could be noticed. Same as in the course of previous campaigns, serious systemic deviations away from democratic standards were reported, for which the Belarusian authorities had been repeatedly criticized before.


II. APPOINTMENT OF ELECTION

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (Article 81) and the Electoral Code (Article 56), "Election of the President shall be appointed by the House of Representatives not later than five months and shall be held not later than two months before the expiry of the previous presidential term."

The election was appointed on September 14, 2010, at the fifth extraordinary session of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. The proposal to hold elections on December 19, 2010, was brought in by Vassily Baikov, chairman of the Standing Commission for State Construction, Local Self-Governments and Regulations. The issue was debated for about ten minutes. Apart from the version offered by Mr Baikov, only one more date was mentioned – February 6, 2010. Other opinions dealt with convenience or inconvenience to hold the election on December 19, 2010. Finally, all the 108 deputies who took part in the session, voted for the election on December 19, 2010. Thus, there was in fact no comprehensive consideration of the date of the election.

It should be noted here that as of September 14, 2010, the deputies had the following nine alternative dates for appointing the election without violating the Constitution and the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus:


 

Round 1

Round 2

December 12, 2010

In the period between December 13 and 26, 2010

December 19, 2010

In the period between December 20, 2010, and January 2, 2011

December 26, 2010

In the period between December 27, 2010, and December 9, 2011

January 2, 2011

In the period between January 3 and 16, 2011

January 9, 2011

In the period between January 10 and 23, 2011

January 16, 2011

In the period between January 17 and 30, 2011

January 23, 2011

In the period between January 24 and February 6, 2011

January 30, 2011

In the period between January 31 and February 13, 2011

February 6, 2011

In the period between February 7 and 20, 2011

 

Entrance of the point "On Draft Resolution of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus 'On Appointing Election of the President of the Republic of Belarus'" into the agenda of the session, together with some other points, was made by the Council of the House on that very day – September 14, 2010, – on recommendation of "Standing Commissions of the House of Representatives."

It follows from the fact that the proposal to hold the election on December 19, 2010, was brought in by the chairman of the Standing Commission on State Construction, Local Self-Governments and Regulations that the point on election appointment was entered by the Council of the House into the session agenda right under the proposal of this Commission. Meanwhile, the official website of the House of Representatives gives no information about any sittings of the Standing Commission on State Construction, Local Self-Governments and Regulations held between September 7 and 14, 2010 (on September 7, the House of Representatives for the first time considered and approved the agenda of its fifth extraordinary session). It can be assumed that the above Commission either had not discussed the issue of appointing the presidential election or had done it in the closed regime, which is against Article 2 of the Law "On the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus", stating that the work of the National Assembly shall be public.

Thus, the above actions of the House of Representatives are against Article 65 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, according to which "preparation and holding the election shall be open and public."

Along with the unprepared, one-sided and hasty discussion by the House of Representatives of the proposal to hold the election on January 19, 2010, the words by Lydia Ermoshina (chair of the CEC) that the approved date was a "predictable surprise" and that "there were three options: December 12, December 19 and February 6. We worked through all of them. But December is the best"[5] are indirect evidence that the decision to hold the election on December 19, 2010, was made not by the House of Representatives (which only staged the debates) but by some other body or person, which is a violation of Article 81 of the Constitution and Article 56 of the Electoral Code.

A similar procedure of appointing the presidential election was used at the 2006 election, when the appointment point was entered into the agenda of the House of Representatives on the same day that the election was scheduled. Same as in 2005, appointment of the election three months before the voting day has reduced the pre-election period down to the minimum allowed by the Electoral Code.

By its decision to appoint the election on December 19, 2010, the House of Representatives has cut the term in office of the incumbent president to 4 years and 9-11 months (depending on the number of rounds and on how soon the president-elect will take the oath), which is against the Law "On the President of the Republic of Belarus" (Article 8), according to which "the term in office of the President shall be five years."


III. ORGANIZATION OF ELECTORAL PROCESS

On September 15, 2010, the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums, which is in charge of "organizing preparation and holding of the election of the President of the Republic of Belarus" (Article 33 of the Electoral Code), held its sitting to consider the issues concerning the presidential election in Belarus on December 19, 2010. The Central Election Commission approved the following:

·        Schedule of organizational measures for preparation and holding of the election (Statement No. 43);

·        Methodological recommendations regarding organizational and legal issues of preparation and holding of the election (Statement No. 43);

·        Methodological recommendations regarding organizational and legal issues of the work territorial and precinct election commissions (Statement No. 44);

·        Explanations on the order of submitting documents for registration of initiative groups of citizens for nomination of presidential candidates (Statement No. 46);

·        Explanations on the order of bagging voters' subscriptions in support of the persons proposed for nomination as presidential candidates (Statement No. 47);

·        Explanations on the order of nominating members into election commissions (Statement No. 48);

·        Explanations on the presence of observers at the election (Statement No. 49);

·        Regulations on the activities of foreign (international) observers (Statement No. 50);

·        Forms of the election documents.

The methodical recommendations, which clarify certain issues of preparing and holding of the election, and of the work of territorial and precinct commissions, are in fact not different from those adopted during the previous presidential elections in Belarus.

The two main novelties are as follows:

1) The order of sending observers to sittings of election commissions and to polling stations. While in 2001 and 2006, the governing bodies of national public associations and political parties had the right to send their observers to sittings of the election commissions of all levels and to polling stations, in 2010, they will have the right to send their representatives as observers only to the sittings the Central Election Commission. The right to send their observers to sittings of territorial (regional, urban, district and city district) commissions and to polling stations now belongs only to the units of public associations and political parties of the appropriate level.

It should be noted here that this statement was presented at the CEC sitting by its Secretary Nikolai Lozovik, who emphasized that the procedure of nominating observers is simplified to the maximum and no longer requires having any subordinate structures, since nomination is made by the governing bodies of political parties and public associations. These words were disseminated by the national television and other media, whose correspondents were present at the sitting. However, Statement No. 49, published on the official website of the CEC, "On the Order of Applying Part 3, Article 13, of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus in Preparation and Holding of Presidential Election in Belarus in 2010" gives the opposite interpretation of the order of sending observers.

In fact, this decision of the CEC is strongly restricting the rights of observers; it significantly aggravates the order of nominating them, even in comparison with the conditions of the previous presidential elections. For example, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), whose members perform monitoring within the campaign "Human Rights Defenders – for Free Elections", cannot nominate observers on its own behalf, since it has no subordinate structures.

On a positive side, it is worth noting the opportunity to present the document about sending an observer on the very day of the sitting, or on the day of observation. Earlier, such document was to be presented to the respective election commission or polling station not later than one day prior to observation.

2) Possibility for presidential candidates to create their own election funds for financing additional expenses during the election campaign.

Besides, the order was changed of submitting the list of members of the initiative group to the CEC: it should be submitted both on paper and on electronic carriers (CD or DVD, USB Flash memory) (in 2001 and 2006 – only on paper). According to Ms Ermoshina, it is necessary to simplify the work of the CEC staff in making certificates of members of initiative groups, and, additionally, to publish the lists on the CEC website. She emphasized that in order to protect privacy of members of initiative groups, this list will be placed without indicating their residences.


IV. PARTICIPATION IN THE ELECTION

As of September 19, 2010, the following persons (in the order of chronology) had expressed their intention to run for presidency (or had been nominated by their organizations, parties and support groups):

 

·              Ales Mikhalevich, leader of the Union "For Modernization" (January 27, 2010);

·              Vitaly Rimashevskiy, chairman of the non-registered party "Belarusian Christian Democracy" (May 23, 2010);

·              Grigoriy Kostusyov, deputy chairman of the BPF (Belarusian Popular Front) Party (May 29, 2010);

·              Yury Glushakov, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Green Party (May 31, 2010);

·              Yaroslav Romanchuk, deputy chairman of the United Civil Party (May 31, 2010);

·              Andrei Sannikov, leader of the public campaign "European Belarus" (June 2010);

·              Sergei Gaidukevich, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (August 21, 2010);

·              Viktor Tereschenko, chairman of the board of the Association of Small and Medium Businesses (September 9, 2010);

·              Vladimir Nekliayev, leader of the public campaign "Tell the Truth" (September 16, 2010); and

·              Nikolai Statkevich, leader of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gramada) (September 18, 2010).

On September 17, 2010, Alexander Milinkevich, leader of the movement "For Freedom", who was the united candidate of the United Democratic Forces at the 2006 presidential election, said that he would not run for the election on December 19, 2010, stating the main reason as the absence of changes in the electoral legislation towards making the election process and vote tabulation transparent, including access of independent observers to tabulation process. Another candidate for the presidency in 2006, Alexander Kozulin, has also announced his non-participation.

As of September 20, V. Tereschenko is the only potential candidate, who had submitted documents to the CEC for registration of his initiative group and whose initiative group was registered by the CEC.

Alexander Lukashenko, the incumbent President of the Republic of Belarus, has not yet officially announced his participation in the election. However, his speech on September 16 at the 6th Congress of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB)[6] can be viewed as an actual start of his 2010 presidential campaign. The speech was on further development of the current policy in social, economic and foreign spheres for the period of 2011-2015 – far beyond his present term as President. The promises made by Alexander Lukashenko at the FTUB Congress can be implemented only if he is re-elected at the 2010 election, which is impossible without his registration as a candidate for the presidency; this registration cannot be made before November 20, 2010. Thus, Mr Lukashenko has actually started his pre-election campaign while not being registered as a presidential candidate.


V. ELECTION OBSERVATION

On September 16 in Minsk, the office of the National Human Rights Public Association "Belarusian Helsinki Committee" (BHC) hosted a foundation press conference of the independent election monitoring campaign "Human Rights Defenders – for Free Elections", jointly initiated by the BHC and the Human Rights Centre "Vyasna". Journalists were addressed by the leaders of the two most influential human rights organizations in Belarus – Aleh Hulak (BHC), Ales Beliatski and Valentin Stefanovich ("Vyasna").

The main aim of the campaign[7] was announced as "independent observation of the election of the President of the Republic of Belarus, assessment of the electoral process from the viewpoint of Belarusian electoral legislation and international standards of free and democratic elections, and keeping the Belarusian public and international community duly informed." Both organizations are not only monitoring the human rights situation in Belarus for more than 10 years, but also have extensive experiences in independent monitoring of elections in many countries around the world.

The election observation will be conducted by the members of the two leading human rights organizations in strict accordance with the existing legislation. They plan to involve both long-term observers, whose task is to monitor every stage of the electoral process – from registration of candidates; and short-term observers, who will monitor the process of voting as such, starting from the first day of early voting and up to vote tabulation. According to V. Stefanovich, the lawyer of the "Vyasna", 80 long-term observers have already been distributed throughout Belarus, and they will be registered in territorial election commissions – district, urban, regional and the Minsk city ones. They will be assisted by additional 600 observers, who will start their work at 300 polling stations across the whole of the country.

Special attention in the upcoming presidential election will be given to voter turnout at polling stations. According to the participants of the above press conference, the reason is in "obviously overstated" turnout at the previous elections. It is planned that the information on the number of voters who will actually appear at polling stations will be compared with the data of election commissions on the everyday basis. Special banner will appear on websites, first of all, of the BHC and "Vyasna", with operative information about the election. Human rights activists promised not only to observe the election, but also to protect the rights of everyone who will address them for help, despite his or her belonging to headquarters of particular candidates.

On the same day, September 16, 2010, Andrei Savinykh, press-secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, said that "today the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus has signed an official letter to the OSCE and CIS with an invitation to take part in monitoring the presidential election in Belarus. In this regard it should be noted that the Belarusian party puts no preconditions either on the duration of the observers' mission or on the number of them."


VI. SOCIOLOGICAL STUDIES BEFORE AND DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN

In June 2010, sociologists of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) spread information about the ratings of potential candidates. The June poll of public opinion indicated that the electoral rating (by the open question) of Alexander Lukashenko made 45.6 percent.

According another social polling conducted in August 2010 by the Analytical Centre named ECOOM, 78.1 percent of respondents were ready to cast their votes for Lukashenko in that month. The opposition candidates were supported only by 5.7 percent of respondents; while 2.2 percent of respondents wanted to vote for other candidates; and 14.1 percent of respondents failed to answer the question.

In mid-September, the details became known of the sociological polling conducted in August 2010 by the Information and Analytical Centre at the Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus. According to this poll, 90 percent of respondents were going to participate in the forthcoming election; only 6 percent of respondents were not going to vote; and 3.5 percent of respondents had not made their decision about participation in the election by that moment.

 

[1] Republic of Belarus. Presidential Election. 9 September 2001. OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission. Final Report. 4 Осtober 2007.

[2] Republic of Belarus. Presidential Election. 19 March 2006. OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. Report. 7 July 2006.

[3] A/HRC/WG.6/8/BLR/3.

[4] A/RES/62/169, para 2 (e), і A/RES/61/175, para. 2 (a).

[5] "Sovietskaya Belorussia", September 15, 2010.

[6] Leonid Kozik, Chairman of the FTUB, stated – back in May 2010 – the readiness of the Federation to support A. Lukashenko at the forthcoming election and bag subscriptions for his nomination.

[7] See more about the campaign in the websites of the Human Rights Centre "Vyasna" (http://spring96.org) and Belarusian Helsinki Committee (http://www.belhelcom.org).

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