Weekly analytical report on monitoring results: June 18 – 24
Elections of the Members of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the Fifth Convocation
Weekly analytical report on monitoring results #1
Review period: the first week of the election campaign, June 18 – 24, 2012.
- During the reviewed period the President’s Edict pronounced the Election Day – September 23rd, 2012; the Central Commission created election districts and approved guidance materials.
- The election campaign begins in unfavorable environment, on the background of political repression, in conditions of the pressure on the opposition forces and the civic society. Political prisoners continue to stay behind the bars, and the recent arrest of independent journalist Andrzej Poczobut demonstrates intensification of the repression against the independent media.
- The authorized entities began the process of nomination for membership in district election commissions;
- Political forces continued to identify their strategy and tactics of participation in election campaign;
- Possible introduction of administrative responsibility for conducting unauthorized polling raises concern.
Election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the 5th convocation was pronounced by the President’s Decree # 276 of June 18th, 2012. The main voting is supposed to take place on September 23rd, 2012. If necessary, the second round should be carried out no later than October 7th, 2012.
The upcoming parliamentary election will be the first parliamentary election held under the amended Election Code, adopted on January 4th, 2010. We should point out, the norms of the updated Code were tested in 2010 during the local election and, especially, the presidential election proving the amendments made into the Election Code were not sufficient for preventing violations of the principles of free and fair elections.
The peculiarity of this campaign will be its repressive environment remaining from the time of the last presidential election (December 19th, 2010). Among other things, one of the peculiarities is the intention to boycott the election or withdraw candidates on the final stage of the campaign, declared by a number of opposition political forces if the authorities do not release political prisoners and do not make other changes in conditions of the election.
Statutory regulation of the election process
The election will be carried out under the Election Code amended in 2010 and 2011. Among the changes that will be tested for the first time during the parliamentary elections in Belarus, we should mention some simplification of campaigning conditions, including signature collection pickets and candidates’ meetings with voters. There are also new opportunities of forming individual election cash funds, holding debates, and quotas for representatives of political parties and non-governmental organizations in election commissions. In comparison with the previous elections, the amended Code contains restrictions in the sphere of donations to the candidates’ election funds by enterprises with foreign investment and entities that received foreign aid.
Lidia Yarmoshyna, chair of the Central Election Commission, repeatedly highlighted her commitment to the policies of the incumbent head of the state. In December 2011 she was appointed for the new term of service as the head of the Central Election Commission despite reaching the maximum age for a state servant. That leads to conclusion that regulatory and explanatory policy of the Central Election Commission will not change during this election.
Bylaws of the Central Election Commission are also an important methodological source which regulates and explains multiple aspects of the election campaign. On June 19th, the next day after the election, the Central Commission passed a number of bylaws about the parliamentary election.
We should also point out that just before the parliamentary election the KGB’s mandate was expanded legislatively, creating especially favorable circumstances for their control over the election process.
The norms of the Belarusian legislation criticized by the human rights community were not changed or abolished before the parliamentary election. In particular, the Criminal Code still criminalizes activity as a member of a non-registered NGO, religious organization, fund or a political party, as well as slander or insult of the president and state officials.
Context of the election process: issue of political prisoners
Political prisoners that exist in the country are one of the key factors that determine the public climate in the country in the run up to the elections. As of the day of election announcement, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” recognizes the presence of thirteen political prisoners in Belarus and demands their immediate release.
Arrest of Andrzej Poczobut, Hrodna journalist and Polish minority activist, on June 21st, accused of the insult of the president, is a rather bad sign in the beginning of the election campaign.
On June 21st the prosecution office issued an official warning to Andrei Bandarenka, director of “Platforma” agency, about possible criminal charges for discrediting the Republic of Belarus. The reason was his participation in the civic campaign against holding world hockey championship if political prisoners remain in Belarus.
Alexander Lukashenka has repeatedly declared possible release of political prisoners within the framework of the amnesty dedicated to the Day of the Republic on July 3rd. However, a significant part of analysts believes that the current economic and international situation makes it possible for the Belarusian authorities to stay in conflict with the European Union, bargaining for bigger concessions. That means that some political prisoners will remain behind the bars, driving some of the opposition candidates to withdraw from the election race.
Configuration of the main political forces
Currently the Belarusian opposition forces found themselves divided into three groups according to their attitude to potential participation in the election.
The majority of unregistered political entities advocates against any kind of participation in the election. This idea is supported by the informal coalition “European Belarus”, which is close to the former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, unregistered organizing committee of the Belarusian Movement, unregistered organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, Young Front, and the Conservative Christian Party of BPF.
Besides the group of Social Democrats around Mikola Statkevich, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) headed by Iryna Veshtard and the Party of the Left “Fair World” declared their participation in the election. LDPB also claimed it would run its candidates, however, the pro-governmental parties did not explicitly announce their intentions about the upcoming election. The public association “Belaya Rus”, the main pro-governmental public organization, declared the intention to actively support candidates who were close to them. However, as the project of turning the organization into a political party was not implemented, we cannot really speak about its full-scale participation in the election on the political level.
A number of registered political parties in the opposition declared the intention to run their candidates by party nomination, and to withdraw them on the final stage in conjunction with the government’s failure to meet the demands about changing the election environment. This position is declared by the United Civic Party and BPF Party. The movement “For Freedom” and the “Tell the Truth” campaign also spoke in support of that position. However, these entities do not nominate candidates (they only support the candidates that are nominated by signature collection), and they might change their position, depending on the position of each candidate about his or her potential withdrawal.
During the period of monitoring we registered a number of meetings of the regional branches of political parties for determining the tactics of participation in the election campaign. The political forces that intend to participate, one way or the other, in the campaign, continue forming the candidates’ list and the list of election commission nominees.
Election observation and monitoring
Among the positive changes introduced in the work of observers, we should point out entitling the governing bodies of political parties and non-governmental organizations to nominate observers to all polling stations despite if they have their organizational structures there or not. During the previous campaign that issue raised certain argument and misunderstanding, demanding additional regulation in the sphere.
On June 21st the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign announced the beginning of monitoring the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the 5th convocation. The monitoring will be conducted by the Belarusian Helsinki Commission and the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. Coordinators of the “For Fair Elections” campaign, carried out on the initiative of 13 political parties and non-governmental organizations, including the main political parties, also announced their intention to observe the election. The separate observation campaign “People’s Control – for Honest Elections”, announced earlier by the “Greens” Party, BPF Party, and the Movement “For Freedom” joined that common campaign. Organizers of the “For Fair Elections” campaign plan to nominate 1,000 people to election commissions and 2,000 observers. Before the election the campaign tried to get registered as an NGO, but the Ministry of Justice did not register them.
On June 19th, Lidia Yarmoshyna promised to journalists that the “OSCE observers would be present at the parliamentary elections”, but could not give the concrete dates of their work, referring to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was supposed to send an invitation.
Forming election districts and nomination representatives to election commissions
The coming data about the borders of the election districts demonstrate some significant changes: in particular, Sukharauskaya district, known for strong positions of the pro-democratic candidates, disappeared (its territory was divided between the neighboring districts); For the first time, Smaliavichy is not included into Zhodzina District. A number of districts have significant deviations from the average number of voters previously determined by the Central Election Commission. For instance, the number of voters in Orsha city district # 26, which includes Orsha city, grew, compared with 2008, from 66, 658 to 69, 015 people. That means, there are 2, 357 voters more in the district. Simultaneously, the statistics says that the number of residents in Orsha decreased by almost 3,000 people. Such discrepancies create the ground for distrust to the official information.
The Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions claimed its branched had already started nomination of members to the district election commissions. Among the parties in opposition, similar announcements were made by UCP, BPF, the Left Party “Fair World”, as well as the branches of BPF “Adradzhennie” NGO. Nomination of members to district election commissions will continue until July 6th.
Opinion polls under threat
Special concern in the context of the election process is raised by the news about possible introduction of administrative responsibility for violation of the established order of conducting opinion polls. According to the information received, the Chamber of Representatives received draft amendments to the Administrative Code, backed by the president. Among other things, there is a new article “Illegal conduct of opinion polls”.
It is likely that the article will be passed very quickly – during the spring session of the parliament. In this case the activity of pollsters, as well as mass media reporting about the results of opinion polls, will be seriously restricted.