PRELIMINARY report of independent observation
ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS
PRELIMINARY report of independent observation
Міnsk, 20 december 2010
Peaceful conduct of the election was marred on the evening of election day, 19 December, when riot police brutally dispersed a crowd protesting against unfair conduct of the election. Although the crowd began leaving the square on its own, riot police beat and detained hundreds of persons, including three presidential candidates, and Aleh Hulak, Chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and coordinator of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Election” election monitoring campaign. Later that night, the office of Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, co-sponsor of the campaign, was raided by the KGB and ten staff members of the centre were detained, including coordinators of the campaign Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich.
The 2010 presidential elections were marked by a number of improvements over previous elections, including a better respect for civil and political rights during the campaign. However, the process still failed to meet a number of key international standards for democratic elections, including the lack of equitable access to the media for all candidates, the absence of an impartial election administration and the unfair use of state resources to support the incumbent. Most importantly, the failure to provide for transparency and accountability in the vote count does not allow consider the announced results an accurate reflection of the will of the voters.
The normative basis of the electoral process was improved by several amendments in Electoral Code of 4 January 2010, as well as modifications to the CEC regulations in September 2010. However, the necessary foundation for democratic elections, in particular regarding the independence and balance of the election authorities, vote count procedures and effective complaints and appeals process, was not established.
While election officials have generally conducted technical election preparations in line with legislation, the composition of the election administration at all levels does not ensure its impartiality or independence from the executive authorities. While legislative changes now appear to guarantee representation on election commissions for political parties and non-governmental organisations, in practice nominees of opposition parties made up less than one percent of precinct and territorial election commission members. The absence of criteria for selecting commission members in the legislation, and limited transparency in the nomination and selection processes was limited.
The conditions for signature collection and candidate registration allowed prospective candidates the opportunity to be registered without significant obstacles. However, the overwhelming use of state resources by the incumbent candidate for signature collection and reports of pressure on state employees during this process are cause for concern. The lack of transparency in the signature verification and document checking process gives grounds to view the results of registration as politically, rather than legally motivated.
The campaign environment was considerably freer than during previous elections, allowing candidates to freely meet with voters, produce and distribute materials and appear live on television during special election programming. However, the dominance of state broadcast media by the incumbent, especially during the last two weeks of the campaign period, disadvantaged opposition candidates who were either not mentioned, or were portrayed in an overwhelmingly negative light.
Complaints and appeals
Out of the 240 complaints lodged by candidates and their authorised representatives, and by other participants of the electoral process, only three were satisfied. This demonstrates that no effective legal remedy exists in practice for election-related complaints. In particular, the numerous complaints about violations of the election legislation by President Lukashenka’s initiative group were rejected without proper investigation.
The early voting period was marked by the widespread use of state administrative resources to coerce voters, especially students and state employees, to vote early. While there were several safeguards introduced into the early voting process, observers were denied the possibility to conduct continuous observation of the polling stations during the five days of early voting, and experienced numerous obstacles, including denial of accreditation in a few cases and withholding of information on the registration figures in many cases. Observers witnessed numerous violations during early voting and filed 125 complaints on the process. The turnout figures estimated by observers, however, generally coincided with those provided by the election authorities, except in a few polling stations where there were significant deviations.
The lack of detailed procedures for vote count has remained one of the main problems of the election legislation. In most polling stations observed, the counting of ballots was conducted by all PEC members at the same time. Each PEC member, however, was counting only his/her stack of ballots and then silently handing over the result of the count written on a piece of paper to the PEC chair. The final result of the count was not known to each individual PEC member, nor to any observers present. Overall, the vote count was found lacking transparency by the observers.
The campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" is a joint undertaking of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The aim of the campaign is observation of the 2010 presidential election in Belarus, assessment of the electoral process from the viewpoint of Belarusian electoral legislation and international standards for free and democratic elections, and informing the Belarusian public and international community about conclusions of the observation. The campaign is independent and politically non-engaged.
80 long-term observers have been conducting observation of all aspects of the electoral process from the very first day of the pre-election period (14 September). Findings from their weekly reports were disseminated in the form of weekly analytical reviews and pre-election reports on different stages of the electoral process in Belarusian, Russian and English.
During early voting (14-18 December) and on election day (19 December), long-term observers coordinated and supervised the work of 600 short-term observers deployed at 300 polling stations throughout the country – in Minsk, regional and district centres, and other urban and rural settlements. Reports of the short-term observers, who participated in special training, were processed on a daily basis and comprised a representative sample (observation covered 4.7% of 6,346 polling stations on the territory of the country) which allowed for the assessment of general trends of voting and the detection of any irregularities during the last 6 days of the electoral process.
1. Legal framework
The legal basis for the election process is made up of the Constitution, Electoral Code, other legislative acts, and resolutions and decisions of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Previous presidential elections (in 2001 and 2006) were held on the basis of the Electoral Code of 4 July 2000 (with minor amendments). The OSCE ODIHR noted “numerous and substantial shortcomings” of the Code on several occasions and proposed recommendations for its improvement. Also, in 2007 and 2008, the UN General Assembly urged Belarus "to bring the electoral process and legislative framework into line with international standards and to rectify the shortcomings of the electoral process”.
On 4 January 2010, several amendments were made to the Electoral Code, including the incorporation of some previous OSCE recommendations. However, according to OSCE ODIHR, “the amendments represent a step towards removing some flaws in Belarus’ election legislation, although they are unlikely to resolve the underlying concern that the legislative framework for elections in Belarus continues to fall short of providing a basis for genuinely democratic elections.”
According to the Constitution and 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." Therefore, the election had to be held on or before February 6, 2011, and it had to be announced on or before November 6, 2010. On 14 September, at an extraordinary session of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, the election was announced for December 19, 2010.
On 15 September, the CEC adopted a series of decisions and other documents related to the organization of the election, which did not contain any significant differences from those adopted on the eve of the 2006 election. Later, the CEC adopted amendments to the Methodological Recommendations of Election Organization that had been proposed by opposition political parties and some presidential candidates. They concerned additional measures to protect the voting process from potential falsifications: "providing observers with a real possibility to conduct their monitoring in conditions that guarantee good visibility of the vote count procedure", sealing slots in the early voting ballot boxes for the hours when polling stations are closed; and a requirement to store ballot papers in sealed safes. In addition, the CEC has allowed governing bodies of political parties and public associations to send observers to election commissions of all levels (as it was in 2001 and 2006, but was not allowed by the 15 September Decision of the CEC).
At the same time, the CEC rejected other proposals aimed at better transparency and fairness of the election process, such as prioritizing political party representatives during the formation of precinct election commissions (PECs); protection of ballot papers against forgery; and others. The CEC also refused to allow observers to be present at the polling stations overnight during the early voting period, and several times dismissed proposals to describe procedures for the vote count in detail, thus ignoring those elements of the voting process which are most vulnerable to potential falsifications. The unwillingness of the CEC to adopt these proposals devalued, to an extent, the above positive changes.
2. Election administration
The election was organized by the Central Election Commission (CEC), 155 Territorial Election Commissions (TEC) and 6,390 Precinct Election Commissions (PEC), including 44 abroad.
The СEC works on a permanent basis. It has 12 members: 6 of them are appointed by the President and 6 by the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, chosen from among the candidates recommended by presidiums of regional and Minsk City Deputies' Councils and corresponding Executive Committees. The CEC Chair (Lidziya Yarmoshyna) and Secretary (Mikalai Lazavik) work on a professional basis and the other members combine their work in the CEC with another government position. Thus, the current staff of the Commission formed on January 22, 2007 has many members who occupy high positions in executive bodies. The CEC cannot be considered to be an independent body given the procedures for its formation and its composition, as well as repeated signs of loyalty to the incumbent president by its members.
According to the Electoral Code, the formation of TECs is conducted by Executive Committees, which are elements of the power "vertical" built by the incumbent President, and local Soviets of Deputies elected at 2010 local elections, which were neither free nor fair. PECs are formed by Executive Committees only.
In January 2010, a number of changes were made to the Electoral Code concerning the formation of election commissions: the share of civil servants in TECs and PECs was limited to one third; the number of citizens or members of a labour collective required to nominate a candidate to a commission was reduced; a possibility to appeal to a court against decisions on forming commissions was introduced; and a guarantee for inclusion of at least one third representatives of political parties and public associations in commissions was included.
These positive steps, however, have changed nothing in the essence of legal norms governing formation of TECs and PECs. Its main features include: the absence of objective criteria to be met by nominees to commissions; absence of guarantees of transparency at the stage of nomination of candidates to commissions; and restrictions on opportunities to monitor the process of approval of members of commissions.
Political parties, NGOs, labour collectives and groups of citizens were entitled to nominate candidates to the TECs and this process was conducted freely. According to the CEC, 2,681 candidates were nominated.
Observers were generally given very limited information about the time and place of meetings where TECs were formed, and had limited access. The meetings that were observed were very formal in nature and actually consisted of approval of non-alternative membership lists, compiled beforehand by local councils and executive bodies.
The TECs were staffed with 2,000 members. Of them, only 14 persons, i.e. 0.7 percent, were representatives of the opposition political parties. The “passing rate” of nominees from these parties was 20 percent (14 out of 70), while the average “passing rate” for all candidates was 74.6 percent (2,000 out of 2,681), and for the nominees from political parties loyal to the incumbent President – 87.6 percent (106 out of 121).