The 2010 Election of the President of Belarus: Weekly Analytical Review (20-26 September)

2010 2010-09-29T10:48:47+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”

I. NOMINATION AND REGISTRATION OF INITIATIVE GROUPS

During this week, the Central Election Commission (CEC) held only one sitting (on September 20), where the initiative group of Viktor Tereschenko was registered.

Besides, the CEC was accepting applications on registration of initiative groups from the persons, who intend to become presidential candidates, as well as lists of members of initiative groups of voters. In all the cases except one, the submission of lists and applications was made, as required by Article 61 of the Electoral Code, personally by the candidates. The exception was the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who presented the necessary documents by means of Alexander Radskov, Minister of Education and the head of Mr Lukashenko's campaign headquarters. The information that A. Lukashenko's documents had been submitted appeared on the news tape of the BelTA (Belarusian Telegraph Agency) at 5:05 p.m. on September 24, the last day for submission. Besides, according to the official information of the CEC released by news agencies, at 4:45 p.m. Alexander Lukashenko had not yet submitted his documents. Moreover, neither journalists nor the public, in the period from 4 to 6 p.m., when there was a real queue of applicants, since the vast majority of them were submitting their documents at the last moment, saw Mr Radskov in the CEC premises or near the building. Both these points – non-submission of documents personally by Alexander Lukashenko and the fact that nobody saw the moment of submission – gave rise to a number of legitimate questions about the legitimacy of Alexander Lukashenko's actions.

Soon the BelaPAN Agency disseminated the comment of Nikolai Lozovik, CEC Secretary, who explained that Mr Radskov "had an official power of attorney of the President on fulfilment of all notary actions... Lukashenko, as an individual, may issue a power of attorney, there are no violations here."[1]

Lydia Ermoshina, Chair of the CEC, assured that Alexander Lukashenko "has used the form, which is used at elections here. He gave a power of attorney to the head of his initiative group, authorizing him to submit documents. Based on this power of attorney, the head of the initiative group submitted the application of the head of the state to the CEC, together with a copy of his passport and the list of the members of the initiative group, both on paper and in electronic form – everything as required by the statement," referring to the Statement of the CEC No. 46 of September 15, 2010, on interpretation of Article 61 of the Constitution. In Ms Ermoshina's opinion, expressed in her interview to the "Euroradio", "there may be different circumstances, and our practice is such that we admit non-personal submission of the application. Here, for example, the young Franak Vyachorka submitted his documents for registration by means of a power of attorney, since he was at his army service; or in 2006 Skrabets submitted his application on registration of his initiative group through the head of the prison. Therefore, we envisage such a possibility: if a person who is going to be nominated cannot or would not for whatever reasons (people may be sick, away on business and so on), he or she has the right to issue a power of attorney."[2]

It should be noted here that L. Ermoshina's reference to the registration of the initiative group of F. Vyachorka during the 2010 local elections looks incorrect, since according to Article 65 of the Electoral Code, a person who is nominated as a candidate of the Local Council of Deputies, when submitting the list of his/her initiative group, shall not submit his/her passport to the respective constituency or territorial election commission. At the same time, Article 61 of the Election Code expressly requires that a person, who has intention to get nominated as a presidential candidate, shall present his/her passport when submitting documents to the CEC.

During the week, the heads of the Central Election Commission repeatedly gave their comments in media on the course of the electoral campaign. Lydia Ermoshina, Chair of the CEC, said that she believed in Alexander Lukashenko's victory in the forthcoming election.[3] This was proclaimed even before the documents on registration of the initiative group of the incumbent president were submitted to the CEC. The statement by the CEC Chair is against the principles of non-engagement and fairness, which should be the guide for the electoral administration, as well as are the means of agitation in favour of one of the persons intending to become a presidential candidate.

II. FORMATION OF TERRITORIAL COMMISSIONS

According to the Schedule of Organizational Measures for Preparing and Holding Presidential Election, approved by the CEC, nomination of representatives to territorial election commissions took place till September 26. According to Article 34 of the Electoral Code, commissions are composed of representatives of political parties, other public associations, work collectives, as well as of representatives of citizens, nominated to commissions by submitting applications. Local Presidiums of the respective Local Councils of Deputies together with Executive Committees are responsible for formation of the commissions.

The territorial election commissions (regional, district and urban ones) are the key mechanism of the electoral process. For example, the regional and Minsk city election commission are organizing the elections, supervise the observance of the electoral legislation, manage the work of subordinate election commissions, control the compilation of voters' lists, manage the funds allocated for elections and monitor the use thereof, supervise the process of collection of voter signatures in support of the candidates and ensure the equal conditions for presidential candidates. Each regional commissions should comprise from 9 to 13 persons (in 2006, 165 territorial commissions comprised 2124 persons), who should ensure, together with the CEC, that the elections will be free and fair.

Neither the Electoral Code nor the CEC specify any criteria to be met by candidates for the territorial election commissions, nor the procedure of considering the candidates. Same as during the 2006 election, the nomination process of candidates to territorial commissions is held in information vacuum. Starting from the moment of announcement of the election (September 14) and ending with the last day, when it was possible to nominate persons in to commission (September 26), neither the power bodies responsible for formation of commissions nor state-controlled media gave any details regarding the nomination process. Also, no information on the nomination of their representatives to territorial election commissions was given by those associations, whose representatives were in plenty included into the territorial election commissions during the 2006 election (BRSM (Belarusian Republic's Youth Union), FPB (Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus), the Belarusian Women's Union and the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans). Observers have only some information about nomination of candidates from some oppositional parties (UCP (United Civil Party) PBNF (Party of the Belarusian National Front), etc.), independent public associations and groups of voters. It is also not reported, when and where the joint sittings of Councils of Deputies and Executive Committees will take place, where the commissions should be approved (observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" had to specifically apply to local authorities with requests to that effect).[4]

Thus, the Belarusian society is almost deprived of the opportunity to know who was nominated to be members of territorial election commissions, and whether the formalities of nomination of candidates were observed. In general, the opportunity to observe the process of forming the commissions is narrowed to the maximum; and Presidiums of Local Councils of Deputies and Executive Committees have unlimited freedom to decide which candidates should be included as members of election commissions.

While commenting on the opportunity for political parties and public associations to participate in the elections, N. Lozovik, CEC Secretary, said that the new legislation norm about the composition of election commissions allows citizens to more actively participate in all the procedures of the electoral process. In this context, it is worth reminding that the monitoring of the 2010 local elections (conducted on the basis of the new legislation) has shown that participation of parties in election commissions was no broader, while the growing participation of NGOs took place exclusively at the expense of pro-government public associations. Often public associations nominated former members of election commissions, who had been earlier nominated by collection of voter signatures or by labour collectives.

III. DEFINITION OF PLACES BANNED FOR COLLECTION OF VOTER SIGNATURES

With reference to Article 61 of the Electoral Code ("collection of voter subscriptions may be organized in the form of picketing. Obtaining a permit to hold a picket for the above purpose is not required, if it is held in places, not prohibited by local executive and administrative bodies"), during the week the urban and district administrations identified the places banned for the pickets to bag subscriptions for nominating presidential candidates (in accordance with the Schedule of Organizational Measures for Preparing and Holding Presidential Election, it was to be done not later than September 24).

The ban has covered the following: objects of the motor, railway and water transports; territories closer that at least 50-200 meters from pedestrian underpasses; premises of television and radio centres, local representative and executive bodies, courts and prosecutor's offices; territories of the organizations, which ensure the defence, state security and vital functions of the population – public transport, water, heat and electricity supplies, hospitals, polyclinics, kindergartens, schools and gymnasiums (Gomel, Grodno and Mogilyov City Executive Committees); territory within the radius of 50 meters from the central city squares, enterprises and institutions, railway stations, office buildings and so on (Postavy and Krichev District Executive Committees), or, in general, all the places, "where pickets may obstruct the operation of enterprises, organizations, institutions or cause danger to life and health of picketers" (Mozyr, Gomel, Korma, Buda-Koshelevo, Chechersk, Zhitkovichi, Petrikov and Bragin District Executive Committees). The latter formulation provides almost unlimited opportunities for "legitimate" banning pickets for collecting voter subscriptions in fact anywhere.

By their content, the decisions of Executive Committees are virtually identical to those adopted during the local elections in April 2010. They significantly worsened the conditions for collecting voter subscriptions in comparison with the 2006 presidential election, when the procedure of collecting voter subscriptions by picketing was not legally regulated; and members of initiative groups could, in principle, to bag subscriptions anywhere.

Thus, in the 2010 election local authorities have actually banned collecting voter subscriptions in the places, which are most suitable for contacting voters by the initiative groups, which support oppositional candidates. At the same time, neither the Electoral Code nor the CEC have regulated the possibility of collecting voter subscriptions at public enterprises and institutions, that is, exactly in those places, where in 2001 and 2006 the overwhelming amount of subscriptions in support of Alexander Lukashenko were bagged, and where representatives of other candidates faced multiple obstacles and bans imposed by administrations. As a result, from the very beginning of collecting voter subscriptions initiative groups are put in unequal conditions as compared with the initiative group of the incumbent President.

IV. PARTICIPATION IN ELECTION PROCESS

Under the law, the persons who intend to get nominated as candidates for the President of the Republic of Belarus shall submit to the CEC their applications on registration of their initiative groups, together with the lists of members of these groups, not later than 85 days before the election – in this case not later than September 24, 2010.

The submission of respective documents was unevenly spread over time: most applicants submitted their applications within the last two days before the deadline; and 12 persons did it on the last day.

Higher activity of applicants is observed as compared with the 2006 election. Applications were submitted by 19 following persons (listed in chronology of submission; the number of members of the initiative group at the time of submission is given in brackets):

Viktor Tereschenko, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Small and Medium Entrepreneurship (1301);

Vladimir Nekliayev, leader of the public campaign "Tell the Truth!" (2575);

Vladimir Pravalskiy, individual entrepreneur (202);

Natalia Starikova, nurse of the mud clinic of the Private Unitary Enterprise "Chonki Sanatorium" (30);

Yaroslav Romanchuk, Deputy Chairman of the United Civil Party (1423);

Yury Glushakov, First Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian "Green" Party (244);

Sergey Ryzhov, Head of Sector for Foreign Economic Activities of the Open Joint-Stock Company (OJSC) "Vitebsk Fruit and Vegetable Combine" (112);

Andrei Sannikov, leader of the campaign "European Belarus" (1831);

Ales Mikhalevich, chairman of the organizing committee of the Union "For Modernization" (1778);

Dmitry Us, Director of the Additional Liability Company "Trivium" (1325);

Rygor Kastusyov, Deputy Chairman of the BNF Party (1307);

Sergey Gaidukevich, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (10,483);

Vitaly Rymasheuskiy, co-chairman of the organizing committee for creation of the Party "Belarusian Christian Democracy" (1704);

Nikolai Statkevich, leader of the organizing committee for creation of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada) (1517);

Ilya Dabratvor, unemployed (1);

Sergey Ivanov, unemployed for the time being (129);

Alexander Lukashenko, incumbent President (8403);

Ivan Kulikov, head of the laboratory on equipment of nuclear power plants of the United Institute for Energy and Nuclear Studies "Sosny" of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (108);

Pyotr Borisov, pensioner (114).

However, not all potential candidates could observe the norm, which regulates the number of members of the initiative group. Under the minimum of 100 members, Natalia Starikova, nurse from the "Chonki Sanatorium", has only 30 members, and the initiative group of the unemployed Ilya Dabratvor consists of himself only. It is obvious that registration of such initiative groups is impossible. According to Mr Dabratvor, his documents were submitted in protest against the fact that "documents are submitted by some weird people – like that nurse for example". He did not assume any chances that his application on registration of his initiative groups would be satisfied.

The initiative group of V. Tereschenko was registered on September 20. Applications for registration of initiative groups of other candidates for presidency were to be considered by the CEC on September 27. The CEC refused to register N. Starikova and I. Dabratvor, since their initiative groups comprised fewer members than the law requires. In addition, I. Dabratvor is younger than 35 – the demand of the Constitution. Thus, only 17 persons were granted certificates on registration of their initiative groups.

The incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko has actually started his pre-election speeches (at the Academy of Management under the President, at the national festival-fair "Dazhynki-2010"). They traditionally contained justification of the "Belarusian model" of governance, issues of foreign policy and criticism of the opposition, treated by him as "nation's enemies." The President emphasized that the election would be held "in transparent and absolutely open manner."[5] On September 25, the Minsk Indoor Football Arena hosted a Forum of the BRSM "Make Your Choice". The aim of the event, as noted by Igor Buzovskiy, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the BRSM, was to orient young people towards "making their right choice" at the presidential election.

V. ROLE OF STATE BODIES


During formation of the initiative group of the incumbent President, the administrative resource was actively used. For example, at enterprises of the city of Polotsk the cadre departments were "sampling" unmarried employees over 20 years of age for recruiting into the initiative group of Alexander Lukashenko.

State-owned enterprises now see more frequent meetings of labour collectives with the "information-propaganda groups" within "the united day of awareness of the population", where high-ranking officials and local bosses are "properly informing" future voters.

Ideological divisions in institutions and enterprises are working towards updating lists of candidates to election commissions of all levels.

The deans of the departments of the Yanka Kupala Grodno State University have been ordered to instruct students about "proper behaviour" during the election campaign, that is, the students should not take part in any initiative groups to bag subscriptions for nomination of oppositional candidates.

VI. APPLICATIONS AND COMPLAINTS RELATING TO THE ELECTION

On September 20, a voter Hary Pahaniaila addressed the Central Election Commission with a request to reject registration of the initiative group for nomination of Alexander Lukashenko as a candidate for presidency. According to Mr Pahaniaila's version, "there are circumstances and legal grounds, evidencing that Alexander Lukashenko cannot get nominated as a candidate for the President, and therefore the initiative group of voters for his nomination cannot be registered".

According to his version, the initiation of the 2004 referendum (which allowed Lukashenko to run for presidency more than twice) was unconstitutional; while the referendum as such was held with numerous violations, which makes its outcomes null and void.

VII. MASS MEDIA

During the week, the state-owned television and radio, as well as the central newspapers, continued giving an extensive, but one-sided coverage of the electoral process. Even before it became officially known about Alexander Lukashenko's participation in the election campaign, a large number of reports and comments were actually campaigning for Lukashenko in advance. Information about other potential candidates was given in extremely limited volume. Besides, emphasis was given to the fact that the electoral legislation of Belarus is in line with international standards, and that elections are open to international observers.

In contrast to central state-run media, local resources are rather modestly covering the election. Most of them place information about the fifth extraordinary session of the House of Representatives and the date for presidential election. The "Gomel Pravda" (September 23) published an article "Race Always Has Some Intrigue, but Favourite Is Obvious", dedicated Lukashenko's leading position. The newspaper "Sovietskiy Rayon" (September 22) brings the idea to its readers in Gomel that "holding the election before the end of the year will allow, without loss of time on the electoral process, right from early 2011 to undertake the tasks of the country's socio-economic development for the next year and the five-year period."

Independent media – both central and local – are actively publishing information related to the election, including articles which criticize the incumbent President's policy and present the positions of other candidates (for example, the "Volny Gorad" from Krichev on September 26). The primary means of disseminating independent information about the elections is the Internet. Observers in the Grodno Region report that information on the election campaign, oppositional candidates and their activities arrives to local residents mainly through the broadcasts of "Radio Ratsiya".

VIII. ELECTION OBSERVATION

The only group of observers, which has already started monitoring the electoral process, is the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", which has more than 80 long-term observers in all the regions of the country.

On September 23, Board of Plenipotentiaries of the CIS member states appointed Sergey Lebedev, Chairman of the Executive Committee and CIS Executive Secretary, to head the CIS Observation Mission at the presidential election in Belarus.

On September 26, the technical group of the OSCE/ODIHR arrived in Minsk, headed by Beata Martin Razumilovich, Deputy Head of Election Observation. The Group will stay in Belarus until September 29 inclusive to understand the pre-election situation in Belarus and the course of preparations for the election.

IX. SOCIOLOGICAL STUDIES OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN


The BelTA Agency continues distributing data of social polls of the ECOOM sociological service, according to which nearly 86 percent of Belarusian citizens do not trust the oppositional parties, while no more than 5.3 percent of voters still trust them. These figures are reprinted by district newspapers ("Krychauskae Zhytsyo" on September 25, etc.). These figures are seriously diverging from the data of independent sociological centres, which are never referenced by the state media.



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The aim of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" is 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 about our conclusions. The campaign is independent and politically non-engaged. More information about the campaign may be found in the websites of the Human Rights Centre "Viasna" (http://spring96.org) and Belarusian Helsinki Committee (http://www.belhelcom.org).

 

[1] BelaPAN, September 24, 2010.

[2] Euroradio, September 24, 2010.

[3] Online conference on website naviny.by, September 21, 2010

[4] There are certain exceptions from the rule: for example, observers of the campaign ""Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" were specifically invited to the joint sitting of the Presidium of the Tolochin Council of Deputies and Tolochin District Executive Committee, appointed on September 27, 2010, at 10 a.m. (no members of oppositional parties were nominated to this commission).

[5] BelTA, September 25, 2010

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