Authorities are forming army of ‘pocket observers’
The heads of the precinct election commissions received the errand to form
brigades of observers. The latter ones are instructed how to counteract
‘curious’ journalists and observers during the count of the poll, neutralize
the personal opinions entered by observers and witness another ‘elegant
victory’. The observer of the NGO BPF Adradzhenne
saw it all at the training seminar for the heads of the precinct election
commissions of the Maskouski district of Minsk on 30 November.
Valiantsina confessed that she didn’t expect anything special from this seminar, judging by the seminar for the heads of the precinct election commissions of the Pershamaiski district of Minsk she had visited before it. According to her, there was nothing interesting at the later seminar and one could simply hand to the heads of the precinct commissions Ruling #99 of the Central Election Commission for independent study instead of it.
Meanwhile, the seminar in the Maskouski district started with the study of this very ruling. It was held by the Deputy Chairperson of the Maskouski District Election Commission Aliaksandr Kudziarmayeu (the Head of the organizational and personnel department of the Maskouski District Executive Committee) and other members of the election commission. ‘However, what drew my attention was that Kudziarmayeu said that this ruling had been adopted by the Central Election Commission on demand of the OSCE. It was quite interesting, as if the CEC really adopts documents on demand of the OSCE we can hope for transparent and fair elections,’ commented Valiantsina Sviatskaya.
She also told us about the details of the seminar.
Before starting the training Mr. Kudziarmayeu announced that the heads of the commissions will need to come to the executive committee on Thursday, and then – on 7-9 December, together with the ‘foremen of observers’(!) At first V.Sviatskaya didn’t pay much attention to it. However, then she heard the announcement that the heads of the commission will receive a paper from the Union of Women where they would just need to put the surnames, and that there should be not less than 10 observers. Moreover, it was told that ‘a girl from the Academy of Management of the Presidential Administration will come and tell what to do in stalemate situations’. What does ‘stalemate situations’ mean? And where will this ‘girl from the Academy of Management’ hold her training?
Valiantsina Sviatskaya received partial answer to these questions by the end of the seminar.
’Register observers, but give them no data’
At first everything followed the scenario described in Ruling #99. The first nervous moment was when Aliaksandr Kudziarmayeu warned that polling stations could be visited by observers, first of all from the OSCE. ‘There can be also our observers – there can be many of them this year. ‘Is it about representatives of parties, was it a decision of Yarmoshyna? Will they give us some devil or an American?,’ cried out one of the seminar participants. This demonstrates the hospitality and goodwill of heads of the commissions well enough.
However, the overall message to the heads of the commissions was that they needed to please international observers. On the other hand, when the role of the international observers was discussed, Kudziarmayeu recommended not letting them to the precinct if they come there 5 minutes before the count of the poll. ‘There’s nothing for them to do near the commission and near the building after 8 p.m.’. Instead, a foreign guest must be shown ‘our hospitality – you can walk with him somewhere, offer tea or coffee.’
Aliaksandr Kudziarmayeu told that ‘all observers must be registered’, but ‘if an observer pays interests to the lists of voters – no information must be given, you must answer that everything will become known after the end of the voting. You can call me if there are any problems,’ he added.
’Such come-off on all possible questions was repeated many times throughout the seminar,’ points Valiantsina Sviatskaya. ‘I have no doubts about who really commands the commissions’.
’Keep silence while counting the poll’
A special attention was paid to the end of the voting. Everything must be in order at the precincts after 8 p.m. An ideal form of such order was voiced by the trainer: the observers must know their place and each member of the commission must know what he does (a hint that the members of precinct election commissions will be informed about their roles later).
The seminar came to the most important moment – the procedure of counting of the poll, which isn’t described in the Electoral Code and Ruling #99 despite the criticism.
’You should prevent all attempts of observers to stand up and stand closely by the tables. Even if they will tell you to ‘show each ballot’,’ instructed Mr. Kudziarmayeu.
Then the man who played the role of the head of a precinct election commission (judging by his speech, he has headed election commissions many times already) shared his priceless experience. ‘Even if they tell you to show each ballot – believe me, I know how to screen them! Each member of the commission will receive a certain number of ballots! And will fill his own paper! You mustn’t turn it over or show it – just quietly pass it to me. I know how to shield myself with a hand and count these papers and the votes! Even if he sees two or three of these papers, he will understand anything from the process of the counting. The main thing is that you must talk with one other. Sit silent!,’ quotes the observer.
Later this man gave another ‘priceless advice’: ‘The ballots of the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes must be distributed between several people. No one will see how many people voted for each candidate. If the votes for all candidates are counted separately, the piles will be seen. However, if you do as I said, all piles of ballots will be approximately equal and nobody will see how many people voted for a candidate. Only the head of the commission will be able to count it precisely.’
’Other observers must be neutralized by our ones’
Thus, all observers were separated into three categories – international observers, observers and ‘our observers’.
As V.Sviatskaya learned at the end of the training, ‘our observers’ must be provided by Belaya Rus, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Belarusian Union of Women and working collectives – at least 10 persons per 1 precinct. The heads of the precinct commissions who hadn’t told about the number of observers they could provide before the seminar were proposed to put in the appropriate paper the number of the available ‘observers’ and the organizations they represented. Moreover, before the beginning of the seminar Kudziarmayeu announced that the minutes of the nomination of observers from the NGO Belarusian Union of Women had been prepared already, it would be handed to the heads of the commissions who would just need to put the appropriate surnames in it.
The functions of ‘our observers’ become clear from the further statements of the trainer. ‘The seminar participants decided that the journalists who would come with photo cameras and would take photos must be allowed to do it. ‘We know that it is psychological pressurization of members of commissions,’ he said. One of the participants added: ‘The precinct is guarded by the duty policeman, and he can lead him out if necessary’.
’However, here we must pay give Mr. Kudziarmayeu his due – as he stopped the most zealous heads of commissions, as Ruling #99 doesn’t say that journalists must be removed from electoral precincts,’ says Valiantsina Sviatskaya. However, if the journalist will make too many photos, ‘our observer will rise and tell him – dear journalist, we, observers, witness that you hinder the work of members of the commission… They will receive the blanks of acts, will fill them – and the acts will be attached to the commission documents. If you show your weakness, these journalists will ride on you.’
’What’s about other observers?’ asked a participant of the seminar. ‘Other observers must be neutralized by our ones. They will say that ‘you hinder the work of members of the precinct election commission!’ and tell the policeman immediately,’ prompted Mr. Kudziarmayeu.
The answer to the question whether the commission could annul the accreditation of an observer would he behave too actively received a negative answer. However, the variant of simply turning the observer out was obvious to all present in the seminar room. All participants of the seminar also agreed that the observers who come to the precincts must turn off their mobile phones.
Kudziarmayeu also warned the heads of the precinct commissions: ‘This time there are representatives of the opposition in the commissions. Maybe, they will enter their personal opinions, will refuse to sign the protocols – your observers will give you their acts that everything was alright. You will have the templates of these documents.’ As it was said at the end of the seminar, such situations will be considered in more detail at the next meeting.
After the end of the seminar it was announced that at 2 p.m. on 2 December the Maskouski District Executive Committee of Minsk will hold a special seminar for heads of the commissions and ‘foremen’ of observers.
’It means that each chairperson of a precinct election commission must prepare a brigade of observers, which will have a foreman and will be trained at a special seminar – how to behave and what to in the ‘stalemate situations’ that were mentioned earlier. The role of these observers is to witness the achievement of another ‘elegant victory’,’ summed up Valiantsina Sviatskaya.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections