‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’: there are no changes on essential issues
On 19 November, representatives of the ‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’ election observation campaign Aleh Hulak and Valiantsin Stefanovich held a press-conference, stating that the results of nomination and registration of presidential candidates are very disputable.
On the one hand, they admitted that the collection and verification of signatures were more liberal than before. On the other hand, there have been no positive changes in such essential issues as the abuse of administrative resources, misbalance of opportunities in favour of the current President, discriminative approaches to appeals submitted to election commissions. The treatment of independent observers has to a certain extent been liberalized. However, the election procedures, in general, have so far failed to become open and transparent.
According to Viasna’s lawyer Valiantsin Stefanovich, local authorities, except for Minsk ones, imposed bans on canvassing for signatures in most populated places. However, within a few weeks, some of them reviewed their decisions, allowing pickets in more favourable locations. Speaking about the forthcoming stage of canvassing, the activist said the situation with authorized locations is very reminiscent of that with the previous election stage, when candidates’ campaign teams were engaged in collecting voters’ signatures. In this respect, Minsk seems to be the most liberal place for election campaign activities. At the same time, some towns and cities suggested meeting with voters in remote locations, buildings under reconstruction… or, say, a firing range! Still, the human rights defenders say local executive authorities are likely to review their restrictions.
Out of 51 complaints against violations of signature canvassing procedures submitted to the Central Election Commission only three were met. All of them deal with canvassing locations. Unfortunately, other complaints, e.g. against obstacles to activists of opposition campaign teams and colleting of signatures for Lukashenka by unauthorized persons, were dismissed. Valiantsin Stefanovich believes the CEC used ‘a differentiated approach’ when considering the appeals. He said that the CEC was too quick to meet an appeal against Uladzimir Niakliayeu’s campaign team. At the same time, its Decision # 47 ‘legalized canvassing for signatures by non-members of initiative groups’, which was abused by canvassers for the current head of State.
‘I do not understand how district commissions verified signatures. Article 61 of the Electoral Code, which prohibits collecting of signatures by non-members of initiative groups is still in force,’ said Mr. Stefanovich.
Aleh Hulak noted that, despite the liberal developments during signature collecting procedures, there are still too many questions to face: ‘it is obvious that the authorities used the principle: we do not bother you, and you do not prevent us from using administrative resources.’ According to the human rights activist, unlike the previous Presidential election, there was no atmosphere of fear, but much of the procedures were neglected. Verification of signatures in commissions was secret. Still, some observers managed to supervise signature counting and verification. However, Aleh Hulak says the observation was scarce and therefore cannot provide a full-scale image of the procedures. ‘There are no grounds to say that we can trust the results,’ said the BHC chair.
Aleh Hulak also mentioned an increase in intimidating of a number of election activists, pro-democratic institutions, independent social researches and human rights defenders, including an unscheduled inspection of human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich by Minsk tax department.
‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’