PRELIMINARY report of independent observation

2010 2010-12-20T11:13:49+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/zasvabodnyjavybarylogo-en.png The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

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.

 

Legal framework

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.

 

Election administration

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.

 

Candidate registration

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.

 

Election campaign

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.

 

 

Early voting

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.

 

Vote count

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.

 

Introduction

 

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”[1].

 

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.”[2]

 

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).

 

Most of TEC members (about 80 percent), regardless of how they were nominated, already had been members of TECs at previous local, parliamentary or presidential elections. As a rule, commissions include 3-4 civil servants, including members of Executive Committees and Soviet of Deputies - the structures that formed the commissions. Others are representatives of pro-government civic organizations, government institutions (especially of education and public health), as well as managers of state-owned (or state-controlled) enterprises.

 

Among 84,084 candidates nominated to PECs by political parties, public associations, labour collectives and citizen groups, only 1,073 persons were nominated by opposition political parties. The remaining candidates were nominated under the control of local authorities, who defined respective "quotas" for state enterprises and organizations and approved the offered candidates well before the end of the nomination process.

 

Refusals to accept documents for nomination to PECs were not reported. All interested parties were able to submit required documents and were informed about the time and place of accepting them. Observers noted, however, that local officials were reluctant to give them information about the nominations that had been submitted, and often did not give any information to them at all.

 

The sittings of executive committees and local administrations where PECs were formed were relatively open to observers, but were extremely formal. In most cases they just approved – very quickly and on a non-alternative basis – the lists of commission members, prepared before the sittings in a closed manner.

 

The 6,346 PECs located in the territory of Belarus were staffed with 70,815 members. Out of 1,073 candidates from opposition parties, only 183 persons, or 17.1 percent, became commission members. At the same time the average "passing rate" of other candidates was 84.3 percent (70,815 members out of 84,024 candidates); the figure for the parties loyal to the authorities was 87.7 percent (1586 out of 1808), while with the candidates from 4 major pro-governmental public associations and 1 trade union the figure was 93.2 percent (23,689 out of 25,419).

 

The nominees of opposition parties made up only 0.25 percent of the total PEC members and worked in less than 3 percent of them. Most of the members of the newly formed PECs had at least once been members of such commissions at previous local, parliamentary or presidential elections, which were neither free nor fair.

 

Therefore, the process for the formation of TECs and PECs virtually did not differ from the process of their formation during previous presidential (2006), parliamentary (2008) and local (2010) elections. While the process was conducted generally in line with national legislation and without significant violations, the resulting commissions cannot be viewed as impartial and unbiased.

 

3. Candidate registration

 

Any citizen of Belarus not younger than 35 years old, who has collected at least 100,000 voters' signatures in support of nomination, may be a presidential candidate.

 

The process of submitting applications to the CEC for registration of initiative groups by prospective presidential candidates, as well as the submission of lists of members of initiative groups, was held in accordance with the Electoral Code, with one exception: the application of the incumbent President was not submitted in person, as required by Article 61 of the Code, but by the head of his election headquarters – Minister of Education Alyaksandr Radzkou, whose appearance was also not seen by observers stationed outside .

 

The applications and lists of 19 initiative groups were considered by the CEC within the legal deadlines. Certificates on registration of initiative groups were awarded to 17 citizens; two were rejected on the grounds that their groups failed to have 100 members, as required by the electoral legislation. In considering the lists of certain candidates the CEC has demonstrated extraordinary tolerance to the faults in submitted documents.

 

The new amendments to the Electoral Code simplified the procedure of filling in signature lists and allowed signatures to be collected through pickets without any prior permit, provided they were held in places not prohibited by local authorities. Initiative groups of all the nominees were working under unequal conditions in comparison with the initiative group of the incumbent president. In particular, they were denied almost any access to the territory of state-owned institutions and enterprises, as well as to students' and workers' hostels. At the same time, the collection of signatures by means of pickets was held without major obstacles and in relatively equal conditions for all the candidates.

 

Administrative resources were broadly used for collecting signatures in support of Lukashenka. The most common forms included: participation in signature collection by administrations of state-owned institutions and enterprises, who forced their subordinates to sign; signature collection by members of Lukashenka's initiative group during their working hours; and collection of signatures by persons who were not members of his initiative group (by the so-called "helpers of initiative group members").

 

Election commissions did not allow observers to be present during the signature verification process, explaining that under the Electoral Code observers may attend sittings of commissions, while verification of signatures took place outside such sittings. The lack of transparency in the process of signature verification provided serious grounds to question the objectivity of the results. 

 

Out of 17 applicants who had registered initiative groups, 11 reported delivery of at least 100,000 signatures in their support, while 6 applicants decided to voluntarily stop their participation in the election.

 

The main changes in the Electoral Code (of January 2010) regarding registration procedures for presidential candidates concerned declarations about incomes and property to be submitted by nominees to the CEC. The number of relatives of the nominee whose property and income data should be declared was reduced; and the notion was introduced of "serious data discrepancy" (previously any incorrect data could provide grounds to reject registration).

 

The CEC sitting on registration of candidates, held on November 18, was open, with the presence of observers and journalists. Only one nominee had no remarks from the CEC – President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (1.1 million valid signatures). Uladzimir Pravalski was not registered because, according to the CEC, he submitted only 118 valid signatures. Remarks on the remaining 9 nominees, who collected more than 100,000 signatures – Ryhor Kastusyou, Ales Mikhalevich, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, Vital Rymasheuski, Andrei Sannikau, Mikalai Statkevich, Viktar Tsyareschanka and Dzmitry Uss – dealt with violations during signature collection and inconsistencies in data about income and property. The CEC decided that these violations did not prevent registration and registered all of the above 9 nominees as presidential candidates.

 

In general, registration of candidates took place without significant restrictions. At the same time, the non-transparent character of the signature verification process and check of documents presented by nominees for registration does not exclude opportunities for manipulation by election commissions and gives grounds to view the results of registration as politically, rather than legally motivated.

 

4. Voter registration

 

There is no centralized list of voters in the country. Lists of citizens who have the right to vote are compiled at each polling station separately prior to each election. According to article 21 of the Electoral Code, each citizen has the right to check whether he/she is included in the list of voters and his/her personal data has been shown there correctly. This legal provision has been interpreted by the election commissions in such a way that observers have practically no chance to acquaint themselves with voter lists. Only PEC members have access to them, and they are not posted for general acquaintance. Changes in voter lists can be made by the PECs practically up to the start of the vote count, and the number of voters registered at the polling station is made public only in the final protocol after the end of voting. This situation creates the possibility for manipulation with both the voter lists and the total number of registered voters at polling stations.

 

5. Election campaign

 

The presidential candidates were provided with one month for campaigning – from 18 November (day of registration of the candidates) till 18 December inclusive. Given the situation of limited access to state media for all candidates except for the incumbent president, and limitations related to campaign finance (see below), one month for the campaign was obviously insufficient for the voters to receive necessary information about candidates and their programmes.      

 

The last 5 days of campaigning (14–18 December) corresponded to the five-day early voting period. During this period the incumbent President had considerably broader opportunities for direct and indirect campaigning than the other candidates. This included opportunities for him to urge voters to participate in early voting, which had been marred by widespread irregularities during the 2008 parliamentary and 2006 presidential elections.

 

According to the Electoral Code, each candidate was entitled to 2,300 basic units (≈ $26,000) from the state budget for production of printed campaign materials. Observers did not note any considerable obstacles for the candidates in accessing these funds. However, the election teams of almost all candidates reported difficulties with production of campaign materials, such as refusals of printing establishments to print them or delays with their printing and shipment.

 

In addition, according to the amended Electoral Code, candidates could establish electoral funds for attracting additional financing for campaigning (by political parties, NGOs, citizens and candidates themselves). Total disbursements from an electoral fund could not exceed 3,000 basic units (≈ $34,000). However, only one out of ten candidates, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, was able to accumulate and disburse the amount of funds close to maximum ceiling.

 

Each candidate was entitled to one hour on the First National TV Channel (two appearances of half an hour each), and one hour (two appearances of half an hour each) on the First National Channel of the Belarusian Radio. Appearances were scheduled for the period of 22 November – 3 December, for working days: from 6:10 till 7:10 on radio, and from 19:00 till 20:00 on TV. According to a CEC decision, appearances were broadcast live. This is a positive development compared to the election of 2006 when candidates’ presentations on TV and radio were first recorded and then broadcast after having been censored. On 9 December, the CEC considered requests of candidates Nyaklyaeu and Sannikau for additional free time on state TV, but dismissed them.

 

Participation of the candidates and their authorized representatives in live TV and radio debates (1 hour each) was a new development compared to the 2006 election. TV debates took place on 4 December (from 17:00 till 18:00) at the First Channel of the Belarusian TV. All candidates except for Lukashenka participated. The TV debates were moderated by journalists known for their programmes aimed at defamation of opposition politicians. Radio debates took place on 5 December (from 17:00 till 18:00) and were broadcast live on the First National Channel of the Belarusian Radio. Unlike the TV debates, the radio debates were moderated in a neutral manner.

 

Access of all candidates, except for the incumbent president, to the state broadcast media was limited by the appearances and debates mentioned above. They completed on 5 December, and during 13 days before the election day all candidates except for Lukashenka were deprived of access to the state TV and radio.

 

The TV and radio programmes dedicated to the election were characterized by “the positive positioning of the incumbent president and his explicit dominance… while the other candidates were marginalized”.[3] In particular, Lukashenka highlighted his election programme during his speeches at the All-Belarus People’s Meeting (held 6–7 December), which lasted several hours and were widely broadcast by the national TV and radio channels, both live and recorded.

 

The candidates had the right to have their programmes of no more than 5 pages printed for free in four national and seven regional newspapers. Some candidates faced refusals from some newspaper editorial boards to print their election programmes in the original wording. As a rule, Lukashenka’s programme was printed on the first page, occupied it fully and was accompanied by large pictures of him. Programmes of the other candidates usually were printed on the inside pages, and often on the last page. Virtually all state regional and district newspapers printed an article titled “Belarus should be really strong!” which in fact retells Lukashenka’s election programme, while no similar materials were printed of the other candidates. Candidates faced obstacles to posting campaign posters, and cases of posters’ removal or placement of other posters over them were recorded.

 

In the majority of regions, except for Minsk, the places for meetings of the candidates and their authorized representatives with voters were allocated in inconvenient and distant places for outdoor meetings and small premises for indoor meetings. Later, some decisions on allocation of places were partially changed, and the number of places was increased. Meetings were held without considerable obstacles. However, some institutions refused to provide premises for the meetings. On 30 November, the CEC issued warnings to candidates Rymasheuski and Statkevich for violation of the electoral legislation during an unsanctioned pre-election rally held on 14 November at Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk. 

 

Campaigning in support of Lukashenka was carried out by representatives of local authorities and CEOs of state enterprises and institutions. They arranged labour collective gatherings and voter meetings with the authorized representatives of Lukashenka. Usually such gatherings and meetings were held during working hours, and participation was obligatory. At the same time, management of enterprises and institutions warned subordinates against participation in meetings with the other candidates and their authorized representatives.

 

6. Election complaints and appeals

 

According to the electoral legislation, decisions of election commissions and other actions related to the election can be appealed to higher-level election commissions and the prosecutor’s office. The Electoral Code amended in January 2010 also allows for challenging decisions related to formation of TECs and PECs in courts. 

 

According to campaign observers’ calculations, 240 complaints were filed during the whole pre-election period. 27 of them related to formation of the TECs. Most of these complaints concerned non-inclusion of the representatives of opposition political parties and non-governmental organizations into the commissions. None of these complaints was satisfied. Courts also did not satisfy any of 85 complaints related to PEC formation (two of them remained unconsidered). The courts have ignored arguments about the discriminatory attitude of executive committees towards representatives of opposition political parties and justified their refusals by the fact that all formal procedures of forming PECs had been followed.

 

According to observers, 51 complaints were filed during the signature collection stage (three of them were satisfied). Most of these complaints concerned places for collecting signatures. At the candidate registration stage only one complaint was filed – by Uladzimir Pravalski who was denied registration as a presidential candidate by the CEC. The Supreme Court dismissed the complaint.

 

The CEC has demonstrated unequal treatment of different candidates while handling complaints. It issued a warning to the initiative group of Nyaklyaeu for violating electoral legislation during the collection of signatures while almost all complaints against the initiative group of Lukashenka were re-directed to lower-level commissions. The CEC and TECs rejected all of the numerous complaints of violations of the electoral legislation by Lukashenka's initiative group.

 

As during previous election campaigns, the prosecutor’s office in most cases avoided carrying out checks related to complaints from subjects of the electoral process, and re-directed them to the election commissions. At the same time, the general prosecutor’s office issued warnings to several presidential candidates for their calls to voters to take part in the rallies at Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk, which the authorities had closed for any mass public events.

 

7. Early voting

 

Under Article 53 of the Electoral Code, early voting should be started no earlier than five days before the election day. It is maintained on the premises of a precinct election commission (PEC) in attendance of at least two members of the commission between 10.00-14.00 and 16.00-19.00. No official certificate of inability to vote on the election day is required. On the first day of the early voting, ballot boxes should be sealed. The PEC should provide daily reports on the number of ballots received and the number of ballots issued to voters (on the last day – the total number for all days), the number of spoiled ballots and, separately, unused ballots. Coercion to early voting is prohibited.

 

Since late November, there have been numerous instances of abuse of state administrative resources, aimed at providing high turnout of early voters. Local executive committees issued instructions for ideology departments of establishments and enterprises, the latter working with their subordinates. The administrations of many enterprises issued decisions on the number of persons obliged to take part in the early voting and demanded proof of that. During general meetings at some enterprises, the representatives of their administrations declared that early voting is obligatory for everyone.

 

Conditions for observation

 

On 30 November, the Central Election Commission dismissed an application for 24-hour observation during the early voting stage. Thus, the observers did not have any effective means of full-scale observation of ballot boxes and could not be confident that no manipulation took place. Apart from that there were other obstacles:

 

 

14

December

15

December

16 December

17

December

18

December

Average

Number of polling stations from which data was available

282

281

294

306

335

300

1. Percentage of polling stations where cases of refusal of accreditation of independent observers took place

5.3%

1.8%

2.7%

0.3%

2.1%

2.4%

2. Percentage of polling stations where independent observers faced obstruction

8.9%

10.3%

8.2%

8.5%

5.7%

8.3%

 

1. Denials to accredit independent observers were registered at an average 2.4% of polling stations covered by observation. The denials were basically due to trivial reasons – absence of a seal on a statement of nomination, absence of birthdates of citizens nominating the observer etc. The dismissals were, as a rule, overcome after declaration of intention to appeal them or after consultations of election commissions chairs with higher election commissions and representatives of executive authorities.

 

2. Obstacles to activities of independent observers have been registered at an average of 8.3% of polling stations. In general, the observers were allowed to maintain observation during working hours only. Meanwhile, the observers were required to maintain their activities from a certain distance chosen by election officials. There were a number of cases when observers were prohibited to use mobile phones and cameras. There were also some cases of obstacles in keeping count of early voters or speaking with them outside polling stations.

 

3. Sealing of ballot boxes on the first day of early voting.  The observers did not have the opportunity to witness the sealing of ballot boxes at an average 2.6% of polling stations. There were cases when ballot boxes were sealed before the start of voting and start of observation. The main issue of concern for the observers was poorly-sealed slots of ballot boxes during the early voting, registered at a large number of polling stations.

 

Violations observed

 

During the early voting stage, the observers registered numerous election violations. The overall statistics of the most typical abuses can be found below. The campaign observers lodged 125 complaints and statements against election violations to territorial election commissions and prosecuting authorities.

 

 

14

December

15

December

16 December

17

December

18

December

Average

Number of polling stations from which data was available

282

281

294

306

335

300

1. Percentage of polling stations where cases of the PEC work outside official hours established by the Electoral Code (10.00–14.00 and 16.00–19.00) were observed

8.5%

6.8%

5.8%

3.6%

7.5%

6.4%

2. Percentage of polling stations where cases of interference by unauthorised persons with PEC work were observed

7.1%

8.9%

3.7%

5.6%

3.6%

5.8%

3. Percentage of polling stations where cases of coercion to vote early were observed

8.9%

14.2%

10.2%

12.4%

6.9%

10.5%

4. Percentage of polling stations where cases of issuing more than one ballot paper to one person were observed

3.2%

2.1%

1.4%

1.6%

1.5%

2.0%

5. Percentage of polling stations where protocols on the number of voters who voted were not posted outside for general information

2.5%

1.4%

0.3%

1.3%

0.9%

1.3%

 

1. Maintaining activities by election commissions beyond working hours was registered at an average 6.4% of polling stations. The observers were allowed to observe voting procedures during working hours only. Meanwhile, they reported numerous cases when election commissioners remained on the premises before 10.00, between 14.00 and 16.00 and after 19.00, which were explained as “technical issues” or “preparation of premises for voting” by the election commissions, etc.

 

2. Interference of unauthorized persons with the activities of election commissions was registered at an average 5.8% of polling stations. The unauthorized persons were generally representatives of local executive authorities or administrations of enterprises and institutions. There were numerous cases of direct control, including through verification of voter lists, by representatives of educational institutions, hostels and other establishments, of students’ participation in the early voting. PECs regularly reported on the number of early voters to administrations of respective institutions and establishments.

 

3. Coercion to early voting was registered at an average 10.5 % of polling stations. As during previous elections, the main victims of coercion were: students from other towns, residents of hostels, military persons, state employees, convicts etc. The main traits of administrative coercion to early voting included: voters’ requests to issue a certificate of participation in the early voting, transportation of voters to polling stations for participation in the early voting, election commissions’ reporting on early voting results to representatives of administrations, etc.

 

4. Issuance of more than one ballot to a person was registered at an average 2.0 % of polling stations. The majority of registered cases are issuance of ballots to voters’ relatives.

 

5. Failure to post daily reports on early voting was registered at an average 1.3 % of polling stations. The observers often had to remind the members of precinct election commissions about the necessity of publication of daily results of early voting.

 

Participation in early voting

 

Observers had particular difficulty accessing to data on the number of voters registered in a polling station. This information was not accessible at an average of one-third of polling stations. There were also many cases of direct denials of information to observers.

 

                                Day

Number of polling stations where the data on the number of voters was available

Number of voters registered at these polling stations

Number of voters who voted at these polling stations on 17 December

Percentage of voters

 who voted on

17 December

14 December

186

335,014

9,569

2.82%

15 December

204

368,302

14,431

3.92%

16 December

210

379,677

16,583

4.37%

17 December

224

403,780

20,964

5.19%

18 December

238

435,822

27,092

6.22%

Total:

 

 

 

22.52%

 

In the majority of cases, the data on the number of voters who have cast their ballots provided by the observers coincided with the official figures (or slightly diverged) during each voting day. On average, the number of voters who cast their ballots, as counted by the observers, comprised 97.2% of the number of voters announced by PECs (at polling stations under observation).

 

At the same time, at some of the polling stations, there were cases of considerable deviations between the official figures and the data provided by the observers.

 

8. Election day: mobile voting

 

Mobile voting shall take place exclusively following a written or an oral request of the voter who cannot come to the polling station. No reason for such a request shall be provided. The PEC shall draw a special voter list in this case, whereby details shall be extracted from the regular voter list. Not fewer than two PEC members should accompany the mobile box. PEC members accompanying the mobile ballot box should have received in advance the number of ballots corresponding to the number of the voters on the special voter list.

 

Observing mobile voting was sometimes problematic as PEC members had to rely on their own transportation means, while the observers were not allowed to join PEC members in their vehicles for the reasons of “lack of space.” Often PEC members designated to accompany the mobile box were leaving the polling station secretly and without announcing their departure. Hence observers were able to note violations relating to technical aspects of the mobile voting procedure only.

 

A significant number of observer reports relate to the procedure of compiling a special voter list. Often such a list was not compiled at all, or observers were denied access to it. A high number of reports concern the criteria for including voters into the list. As a rule, voters were added to the special voter list based on their age and the geographical distance from the polling station (especially in rural areas) rather than at the request of the voter. In many polling stations, the number of mobile voters was significant, i.e. 400 and over (even in urban areas). Observers who were able to observe mobile voting noted a high number of cases where voters refused to vote or were surprised at the arrival PEC members at their homes. Also noted were incidents of violation of the principle of secrecy of the ballot, cases of coercion and multiple voting. Also observed where cases when voters, having voted early, were offered another opportunity to vote at home on election day.

 

Often there was no possibility to observe the handing over of ballots to designated PEC members, as ballots had been given either in advance or secretly, in another room. Often observers were denied information. At the same time, observers noted a high number of cases when a ‘rounded-off’ number of ballots had been given out (for example, 100) or ballots had been given in stacks without having been counted.

 

There were also incidents of violation of the requirements for storing ballot boxes in polling stations – ballot boxes were stored not in the view of observers. However, these incidents were few in number as compared to the incidents of the violations of the law mentioned above.

 

9. Election day: voting at polling stations

 

Voting on Election Day shall take place at polling stations from 8:00 to 20:00. Voting at closed polling stations may be completed earlier if all voters have cast their ballots. Voting shall take place in specially designated premises in polling booths or rooms for secret voting. Ballot boxes shall be examined, sealed and stamped before voting starts in the presence of not less than 2/3 of PEC members. A ballot shall be given to the voter upon producing a proper ID; the voter must certify the receipt of the ballot with a signature. Voters must vote individually.

 

In a number of polling stations, observers noted: group voting, family voting (upon the presentation of passports of family members), etc. PECs did not pay significant attention to such violations, according to the observers.

 

Similar to the early voting, in some cases observers were denied figures relating to the number of voters on the voter list; mobile voters; and ballots received.

 

10. Election day: counting of votes

 

Results of processing observer reports from 222 polling stations covered by the campaign observation (at 6.00 am of 20 December) are below. These are answers of the observers to the questions of the questionnaire dedicated to vote count:

 

Question

Number of  “Yes”

Number of “No”

Percentage “Yes”

Percentrage “No”

1. Were all accredited observers allowed to observe vote count?

211

11

95.05%

4.95%

2. Could you view the contents of the ballots?

 

65

157

29.28%

70.72%

3. Have there been cases of observers being expelled from the polling station during the vote count?

4

218

1.80%

98.20%

4. Was there a procedure for counting votes so that all members of the PEC count see for whom each ballot was marked?

87

135

39.19%

60.81%

5. Was there a separate vote count carried out for each different box (for early voting, mobile voting and regular voting)?

195

27

87.84%

12.16%

6. Were the results of counting votes from different ballot boxes announced?

120

102

54.05%

45.95%

9. Were there any complaints lodged concerning the vote count?

 

50

172

22.52%

77.48%

10. Were received complaints dealt with at a meeting of the PEC?

 

19

203

8.56%

91.44%

10А. If yes was the complaint satisfied?

 

 

8

75

9.64%

90.36%

11. Did members of the PEC write any comments on the protocol?

 

3

219

1.35%

98.65%

12. Was the protocol displayed with the results for general information?

207

15

93.24%

6.76%

13. Did PEC members provide observers with a copy of the final protocol upon request?

63

159

28.38%

71.62%

14. Ці праходзіў падлік галасоў са значнымі парушэннямі Ў ЦЭЛЫМ?

14. Was the vote count held with significant violations in general?

115

107

51.80%

48.20%

 

 

11. Post election developments

 

Following democratic candidates’ appeal for a peaceful rally, a protest demonstration against the falsification of the election results took place on 19 December in Minsk. Over 30,000 people took part in the event.

 

One week before the demonstration, state-run mass media as well as the Interior Ministry and KGB had warned of provocations allegedly being prepared by the opposition, such as terrorist attacks and the use of weapons.

 

Starting from 18 December, independent observers were receiving dozens of reports about preventive detentions of youth activist groups. On 18 December, in Hrodna Kiryl Semyanchuk was detained and sentenced to 6 days of administrative arrest. Yury Klimovich was detained in Homel and accused of actions falling under Art. 17.1 (petty hooliganism) of the Administrative Proceedings Code.

 

On election day, leader of the Malady Front Dzmitry Dashkevich was detained following fabricated charges. Criminal proceedings were initiated against him following Art. 339 Part 3 of the Criminal Code. Under unknown charges, Mikhail Pashkevich, proxy of presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, was detained too.

 

At 18:00, a group accompanying presidential candidate Nyaklyaeu and moving towards the square was attacked. Nyaklyaeu was badly assaulted and transported to the ambulance hospital with a cerebral/brain injury of medium severity.

 

At 20:00 not less than 30,000 participants of the peaceful protest rally marched from Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk towards Nezalezhnosci Square and the House of Government. Presidential candidates held a rally. Unknown persons, whose actions were condemned by the candidates, attempted to break into the Parliament.

 

At about 22:00, no more than 5,000 participants were still remaining at the Nezalezhnasci square. They were assaulted by the police, who were knocking down the protesters, hitting them over their heads and faces. This brutal response of the police was clearly disproportionate to the actions of the protesters. Over 200 people were detained. Protocols with administrative charges of participating in an unsanctioned mass event were drawn against them. Detentions continued overnight in the homes of opposition leaders. Anatol Lyabedzka, chair of the UCP, was detained at home. Severely assaulted and detained were presidential candidates Sannikau, Kastusyou, Rymasheuski, and Statkevich. Unlawfully detained also was Aleh Hulak, chair of the BHC and coordinator of the “Human Rights For Free Elections” campaign.

 

At approximately 3:15 am on 20 December, special forces personnel raided the office of Human Rights Centre “Viasna” in central Minsk. At 3:45am, ten staff present were detained, including lawyers Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich, and taken to the police department of Pershamaiski district of  Minsk.  Special forces then carried out a search of the premises.

Such police actions are in violation of the law and aim at harsh suppression of the mass protest rally. They serve as a vivid example of the repressive nature of the Belarusian authorities. The police actions demonstrate the intention to fully suppress any protest rally held against the dubious results of the election.



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

[2] http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2010/06/44755_ru.pdf

[3]Coverage of 2010 Presidential Election by the Belarusian Mass Media / Bulletin of the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

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